*CONTENT WARNING: Contains discussions of rape, abuse, sexual assault*
There is nothing easy to stomach about HBO’s two-part documentary Phoenix Rising. Acclaimed actress Evan Rachel Wood takes control of her own narrative as she confronts her past experiences of domestic abuse, seeking justice for herself and other survivors.
Wood has been no stranger to the misogynistic degradation enacted by the press throughout her career. Although she began acting as a young child, it wasn’t until her performance in Thirteen (2003) as a troubled teen did she begin to make a name for herself. Quickly branded as a ‘little Lolita’ by the media and film industry, Wood was offered a string of mature roles, playing a devious school girl in Pretty Persuasions (2005) and a rebellious young girl in Down In The Valley (2005), all before the age of eighteen. This branded her as a troubled, mature young girl.
As the documentary unfolds, Wood recounts her childhood, early career and relationship experiences, deep-diving into her memories, journals, love letters and emails whilst preparing and building her case against her abuser, Brain Hugh Warner aka Marilyn Manson. Alongside her reflections and interview clips, beautiful almost watercolour animations compliment the sincere, yet uncomfortable narration. The topic of Wood’s abuse is handled delicately yet with a clear emotional rawness.
As the film progresses, definitions of terms such as love bombing and grooming fill the screen as Wood details the progression of the abuse she experienced. These definitions serve as a subtle aid to the overall deconstruction of manipulation and domestic abuse. Wood uses the documentary to highlight the tell-tale signs of her abuse, as well as the general formula of an abusive relationship, ensuring the viewer is educated on what they are witnessing. This is vital in not only understanding Wood’s experience but in raising awareness of domestic violence and the signs of an abusive relationship.
It is heart-breaking to witness the horrid, callous experiences of Wood’s relationship and life. The topic of the actress’ abuse is difficult to digest. Details of the cold, twisted actions from Manson over the years of their relationship are enough to make you nauseous. She reflects upon her filming of the music video ‘Heart Shaped Glasses’ in which Manson drugged, raped and recorded her, all for the sake of his video, which can still be found on YouTube. Wood recounts this as the ‘worst set experience’ of her life. Truly unsettling, and even more disgusting that the video can be easily accessed on such a large platform.
The abuse Wood’s has suffered is by no means the cold hard point of the narrative. The documentary is as much focused on Evan Rachel Wood’s story as it is on the Phoenix Act – a survivor-led non-profit organization set up by Wood to challenge and rewrite legislation across the United States to support and better aid survivors of domestic violence. The overall purpose of the documentary and Evan’s journey is to improve future conditions for victims of domestic abuse and violence. This message rings true throughout the entire film. It is admirable to see such an iconic woman take charge of her own story, and use this story to further enrich and improve the lives of other victims and women.
Phoenix Rising is a one-of-a-kind documentary in the sense that it will stay with you long after the credits roll. Evan Rachel Wood is only just beginning her long fight for justice, yet it makes for a remarkable thing to witness. The tales of women and their abuse are rarely spun with such a hopeful, endowing execution. As the credits roll, one can only hope for the succession and justice Wood’s deserves to manifest in the real world. As heartbreaking and gut-wrenching as her story is, the power, authenticity and genuine goodness at the core of this film ripple through every scene, resulting in an overall uplifting, beautiful viewing experience. Phoenix Rising deserves to be seen by everyone.
Phoenix Rising is available to stream on HBO Max now
by Kelsie Dickinson