Documenting a Life
Director Sasha Joseph Neulinger tells his own story of sexual abuse by using his film “Rewind” as a form of therapy in the hope that it will also benefit others. When he was a child, his father bought a video camera and obsessively filmed his family. Much of that footage is included here. We watch Neulinger changes as he grows. Birthdays, holidays and other activities are recorded, and we see a young boy developing a problem with anger but what the camera could not catch is that he was being sexually abused by someone who threatened him with harm if he told anyone.
We see and hear the details about how child sexual abuse became part of his family and Neulinger’s story became very public, as it connected to a prominent family member that the “system” covered up after formal allegations were made. We see that predators often hide in plain sight, assuming the form of trusted, moral individuals.
Neulinger interviews his mother, father, and sister in the documentary. He asks for information he did not previously have including their thoughts at the time and what they observed about his behavior. We can see that just as he’s working to heal, so are they. We meet key figures in his life— the psychologist who treated his trauma and the District Attorney who tried the case. Neulinger seeks to retrieve memories he’d forgotten or to hear the perspective of others associated with the legal proceedings. His own reminiscences and the revealing home video footage, make this a compelling examination of the totality of child sexual abuse. The film looks at the subject from all angles and we see how the director’s personal story played out giving us an unforgettable portrait of how terrible abuse really is.
Neulinger’s father missed his son’s birth because he was out buying a video camera. That video camera is the key to “Rewind,”—- the family dynamic it captured are absolutely crucial to the story that it tells. The movie is a study of what happened to Neulinger when he was a boy and that is the brutal sexual abuse he was subjected to by multiple members of his father’s family. The old footage shows that this was able to happen under the nose of his mother, Jacqui. But the historical footage is only part of it. The most dramatic parts are the conversations Mr. Neulinger has with his parents, in which he refers to himself in the third person, and the family secrets those conversations reveal.
Once the abuse became known, the family protected. Neulinger and his sister and tried to achieve justice. About half of the film is devoted to exploring how the justice system worked, or didn’t work not work for the different perpetrators. Neulinger’s former psychiatrist, public prosecutors, and the police officers who handled his case share their files so that we can see drawings and letters written by him as a child and explain how they helped prepare Mr. Neulinger for court. Neulinger’s major court appearance reduces his doctor to tears. The boy’s courage is amazing.
While the movie elides his teenage years (this implies the problems ended with the court case, which cannot possibly be true), we learn only the barest outline of his life as an adult. The film is a testament to the director’s personal bravery and it is upsetting and important.
To transcend the shame, Sasha felt he needed to revisit his painful past fully, from beginning to end, and to document it along the way. He does so intelligently and gives us a dramatic look at his life. In the beginning, it all seems like a mystery— what caused little Sasha to go from a happy-go-lucky kid to a troubled, wild and unpredictable one? Sasha’s father says videos. “Now when I look at them [the video], I see it in the background. Stuff was going on,” he says. The changes in Sasha are evident in the tapes, and we want an answer. Next, we’re taken aback when we learn about the people involved and the manner in which the offense takes place.
“The film is a lesson on the common aspects of molestation, such as its twisted, contagious nature and the psychological poison that permeates the victim’s unconscious. These insights into the matter allows Neulinger to contest the actions of the abusers from a non-judgmental lens.”
At the end of the documentary, Neulinger revisits his quest for justice: a segment that carries the spirit of a courtroom drama. We get a inside look at the legal system, thanks to interviews with the prosecutor and the judge in the case. Then finally after years of compiling footage and both interviewing and speaking with family members and the professionals involved, the film ends.