I, Tonya, 2017

I, Tonya, 2017, Directed by Craig Gillespie

I, Tonya, tale of Tonya Harding, working-class ice-skating champ, is a narrative that finds its compelling rhythm in various perspectives, sometimes told directly into camera by its central players, and other times conforming to a more classical cinematic construction. Sometimes Harding (Margot Robbie), her ex-husband Jeff (Sebastian Stan) and her mother, LaVona (Allison Janney) directly address us as they appear to be interviewed in their separate domestic settings, trapping us in webs of contradictory accounts of who knew what and when events occurred. However, it is aside from the intricacies of these slightly differing accounts that I found the truly captivating elements of the film.

The most impressive moments are the scenes where Harding dances on the ice. With seamless filming ability, the figure of Harding is shown in long takes, spinning and turning, jumping and lifting her body above and across the frozen, white mass. She twirls with spectacular ease that transcends the gravity us mere mortals are restricted by. The camera follows her, keeping up and never chasing, flowing with precise ease like Harding’s body, lifting and landing as she does with elegant excitement. The camera’s formal movement, combined with the diegetic soundtrack to which Harding performs her routines to, both uplifts the image and provides an insight into the skater’s attitude as one that is radical, exhilarating, and badass. Without growing up in the era that this historical, cultural story broke, I feel preconceived affinity or prejudice toward Tonya Harding as a figure or emblem.

The filmic text, however, leads me to empathise with Harding. She is complexly portrayed as a body both in and out of control, vulnerable, abused as well as victorious and powerful. Most importantly perhaps, Harding is shown as retaining agency despite and throughout abuse and prejudice, retaining pride despite a mocking and unfair classist culture.  The film’s tone regarding the issue of domestic abuse is masterfully handled. The humour that is woven throughout the films characters and script allows for a humanity to be present without making light of a serious issue. Abuse is recognised as harmful, sorrowful, but not patronising, not diminishing of a person’s power, not a total annihilation of their spirit.

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