‘This Movie Is the True Meaning of Catharsis’: Brooke Shields on Looking Back—And Starting Over

blog image

When I told Vogue’s deputy editor that I would be writing this piece, his eyebrows shot up to the 65th floor of 1 World Trade Center. Was it appropriate for me to cover a documentary that takes my father and the misogynist industrial complex of the late ’70s and early ’80s to task? Maybe not, but I remembered meeting Shields at a movie premiere years ago, when I was party reporting, and her telling me about her college thesis and how much she loved my father. When I checked in with her team more recently, they confirmed that she was looking forward to doing the interview with me. So, I felt like conflict had been averted. What I did not anticipate was how complicated it would be to watch Pretty Baby again, and learn about the on-set conditions that my father oversaw. The media loved her, but they also pilloried her. Like Framing Britney Spears, the documentary clarifies—with the benefit of time and perspective—the role of the media as the relentless villain in Shields’s story. Reporters’ lack of tenderness toward a preteen girl and demands that she answer for the way that she was sexualized onscreen are perhaps the most gasp-inducing parts of the film. “They’re shocking,” agrees Shields, recalling an interview with Barbara Walters in which the journalist asked Shields to stand up and compare her measurements to Walters’s own. “I felt more objectified and abused by [that],” says Shields. “The irony is I didn’t have that discomfort or shame in the one nude scene in Pretty Baby.” Another clip shows a male talk show host reading a description of Teri, who struggled with alcoholism, as having a face “[bearing] the marks of a heavy drinker: rough skin, sunken eyes”—and asking a teenage Shields, “Do you agree with that?” She matter-of-factly replies that her mother’s skin is the result of terrible allergies. “When I first saw that again, I was with Ali [Wentworth] and she just looked at me and I just bawled my eyes out,” says Shields. “I was so glad that that was highlighted because it’s so layered and it’s so abusive to both of us.”

I ask Shields if this retrospective journey had made her wish she’d done anything in her career differently. “I think I would never have gone down the ‘it’s a good idea to get a hair dryer made with your name on it’ [route]. I think there were so many non-thespian choices that were made so that we could buy the apartment, get a car.” After Shields graduated from Princeton, in 1987, a fallow period ensued. “I don’t know if I was a joke, but I definitely felt like it at times, because there were these failed movies and then doing weird ads,” she says. It was then, in her early 20s, that Shields took a meeting with a Hollywood power player whom she does not identify. After a dinner to discuss a potential role, he invited her to his hotel room to call a taxi and raped her. Sharing that story for the first time is, for Shields, a meaningful recasting of her narrative. “I’ve had so many stages to get to before I had any ownership over myself and the experience,” Shields says of her assault, though she could be talking about her whole life story. “I thought, You don’t have to explain yourself, but if you’re gonna be who you say you are, you can’t give 80%. It’s like Andre’s book, called Open…please,” she adds, coyly referencing her ex-husband Andre Agassi’s best-selling 2009 memoir. “It’s a very interesting play on words.”
When we look back at our lives, sometimes it can be overwhelming and evoke intense emotions – a feeling known as ‘catharsis’. For Brooke Shields, this is especially true when it comes to her new movie.

The star of the hit comedy ‘Suddenly Susan’ recently released a new film, ‘Looking Back—And Starting Over’, which tells the story of a family struggling to cope with the death of a loved one – and Shields says that the film has been a ‘catharsis’ for her. “As an actor, to be able to actually go into this and to be able to portray it in an organic, honest way has been a real release from the struggles and sadness I think so many of us have gone through this last year.”

Throughout the movie, the family encounters the traditional stages of grieving: wronging and numbing… to ultimately acceptance and bravery. In fact, Shields believes the film serves as a powerful reminder of how important it is to keep looking forward and starting over, despite the obstacles we may face. “It’s taken courage and strength to start over. But there is hope, light and love that we can create again. That’s been a reminder for me and I’m hoping that it’s something others can draw from.”

In this moving movie, Shields does an impressive job of conveying the diverse range of emotions that come with grief and loss – a feat that has been praised by audiences and critics alike. This movie is truly a reminder that catharsis can come in many forms, and that sometimes it’s the simplest things that can help us heal.

Read more