Sasha Joseph Neulinger’s first feature documentary film “Rewind” is often uncomfortable and disturbing to watch for good reasons. Calmly digging into his traumatic childhood past via a series of old home video clips shot around that terrible period, the documentary gives us a sobering examination of emotional scars which will probably never go away from Neulinger and several other survivors, and you may find yourself wincing several times like I did during my viewing.
At first, Neulinger shows us how things seemed to be fine and good on the surface for him and his family during the 1990s. His parents Henry and Jacqui were a decent couple who loved each other, and Jacqui reminisces about an amusing episode on how her husband came later than other family members at the time of Neulinger’s birth in 1989. As a professional filmmaker working in PBS, he thought that he needed a good video camera for recording their first kid’s birth, but, due to spending too much time on finding a right one, he only came to record the aftermath instead.
After several years, Henry and Jacqui came to have a baby daughter named Bekah, and a series of home video clips show us Neulinger and his younger sister having happy times while surrounded by their parents and several other family members including Henry’s two older brothers Howard and Larry. Henry recollects how much he and Larry, who was incidentally Neulinger’s godfather, were close to each other, and that is evident from a few recorded moments between these two brothers.
When he was around 6, Neulinger was a smart and lively kid full of potentials, and his parents were surely proud of him, but then, to their bafflement, he became a lot more emotionally withdrawn than before in addition to having notable troubles in learning process. While his parents remained to be at a loss, Neulinger’s emotional problems got worse as time went by, and he was eventually sent to a psychiatrist for evaluation.
While showing several recorded moments showing some of his troubled behaviors, Neulinger has a frank conversation with his mother, and Jacqui still remembers well how disturbed her son was during that confusing time. At one point, she shows us an underwear written with words clearly reflecting Neulinger’s low self-esteem during that time, and this object brings more pain to both her and her dear son.
Now some of you have already had a pretty good idea on what was happening to Neulinger during that time. Yes, Jacqui came to suspect the possibility of sexual abuse on her son, but she hesitated when she was told about the dire possible consequences from reporting on that to the police. After all, the prime suspect would probably be none other than her husband, and that was certainly the last thing she wanted.
When the truth finally began to come out via his son’s desperate indirect expression, it was far worse than Jacqui and Henry might have imagined. Neulinger had been sexually abused by three close family members of Henry for a long time, and these horrible persons had also committed frequent sexual abuses on Bekah, who turned out to be as emotionally troubled as her older brother because of that.
As talking with not only his parents and younger sister but also a number of figures associated with the following court trials, Neulinger comes to revisit and face his dark and hurtful past, and we often sense how hard and difficult that is for him. He is ready for throwing some hard questions in his composed appearance, but he cannot help but become a bit emotional in front of the camera from time to time.
One of the most revealing moments in the documentary comes from Henry, who turns out that he had a deep secret he never told anyone before belatedly coming to learn of his dear son being sexually abused by those three family members of his. I do not dare to go into details because I am still wincing from one gut-chilling moment of revelation from him in the documentary, but I can tell you instead that this moment and several other key moments of revelation in the documentary will surely make you reflect more on that virulent cycle of abuse in family.
While he was hurt so much by those three family members of his father, Neulinger came to find strength and courage from not only his father but also his mother and her family members including her grandparents, who considerably supported their great-grandson with lots of care and love. Thanks to the sincere support from these family members of his, Neulinger was eventually able to deal with his unspeakable traumas, and he also could bravely testify against the man at the center of his trauma, though the long-awaited outcome of the trial turned out to be not that satisfying for Neulinger and his family.
In conclusion, “Rewind” is an earnest but ultimately harrowing presentation of painful memories of family sexual abuse, and Neulinger did a commendable job of handling his personal story with enough restraint and sensitivity. That past of his may be never through with him during the rest of his life, but he luckily survived and then has moved on, and I sincerely hope that this therapeutic filmmaking of his did help him a lot as shown from the end of the documentary.