I Have Got To Talk About “I, Tonya”

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

Drop everything you’re doing and go see this movie right now. Seriously. Stop even reading this blog post, and go to that movie.

Okay, so mild spoiler alert for this first bit. And I’ll give you a bigger spoiler alert later.

Tonya Harding.

I really didn’t know anything about her. I just sort of vaguely knew, “Oh, wasn’t that the girl who clubbed some other girl or something?” But NO.

She had so little to do with it. (I mean, according to the movie. Who knows the real truth for sure? But the movie shattered my heart.)

I feel like this movie is especially relevant in 2017 because we are really having a reckoning with sexism and women who’ve suffered abuse – and what that means, and how that’s held many women back, and intrinsically changed their lives and careers. And Tonya Harding is a quintessential example of how abuse changed her life. (Major spoiler alerts ahead.)

It was her abusive husband who started the whole scheme in the first place, and I think he got her involved with her bodyguard who escalated the scheme and without Jeff in her life, Tonya could’ve ruled the world. She’s one of the very best figure skaters of all time, and she does not have an Olympic medal.

It takes an abused woman an average of 7 times to leave, before she leaves for good. And every time she left him in the movie, it was so great. “Maybe this’ll be the one,” I hoped. But I knew it probably wouldn’t ever be. And also, it never was – until he’d already ruined her life. (And now I’m already crying again because holy goodness, this movie was devastatingly good.

Not to make this move about me or anything (eeesh, who am I, Trump?), but having been in an abusive relationship, I’ve had people ask me so many times why I’d stay – sometimes after things that seemed… not innocuous but innocuous enough (e.g. throwing such a tantrum that he’d break things around me, but he didn’t actually hurt me – being scary and being violent, but not ultimately physically hurting me… (and more examples of various things along those lines – that cross a line for most people (esp in a repeated pattern), but become something you just deal with when you’re in it).

And I just know how exhausting it’s been to try to answer those questions when they’ve come up – not that there’s not merit to them. But I guess weirdly I just never realized how odd being in an abusive relationship seems to people outside of one, until I started loudly talking about it.

Anyway. The point is, I wonder how much Tonya Harding had to deal with that. And I wonder how many people came out of the movie asking questions like, “HOW could she go back to him after he shot at her?!” I mean, I felt it in my soul. The movie all made total and perfect sense to me. I identified. I cried. I got it. And I wonder for someone who hasn’t had the last year and a half of trauma therapy I had – especially in this, the year of 2017 – if it feels as so super real and relatable and heart-wrenching and such…

Anyway. So, she was in this abusive relationship. And abuse was all she knew. And no one was there to help her. Even when the cops pulled her husband over for something else, and there was alcohol and guns in the car and she was bleeding right in front of them, they didn’t talk to her. They didn’t ask if she was okay. She had nobody.

And I most certainly did not realize she’s one of the best figure skaters of all time. I guess I just kind of assumed that if she had make some incident happen to get her competition out of the way, then she must not be good. But she’s one of only a tiny number women to have ever been able to perform the triple axel. Ever.

I think she was the first American woman to do in a competition. She would’ve been the first person to do it at the Olympics, but alas, her home life was out of control during 1992, and her skating was suffering, and she couldn’t pull it out, sadly. And I know lots of people can do amazing things when their home life is a mess. And she often did too! But in 1992, alas, she just didn’t.

Anyway, the triple axel. Man, there was a part in the movie… the movie sort of has these little asides from the characters in the present day, like they’re giving interviews and stuff. And Tonya’s character gets choked up when she talks about the triple axel and says something like, “I’m sorry… Nobody ever asks me about this anymore.”

And yeah. It’s so sad to think that she could do this amazing feat, but because she was too close to the people who did this terrible attack on Nancy Kerrigan that now that’s all Tonya’s ever asked about.

Anyway, I could talk about this movie all day. But the point is, as far as I could tell, Tonya had no prior knowledge that Nancy Kerrigan was going to get hurt. And her life was ruined because of a plan her husband started putting in motion, and someone else (still not Tonya and not communicating with Tonya) finished.

Oh! One more super sad thing. She was told by the skating federation that if she wanted to represent our country, she had to have a more wholesome family. She had done the healthy thing and cut her abusive husband out of her life. And then she was pushed back with him for the sake of her career – which he then ruined.

And there is part of me who wonders, “What if she was a villain? What if she really did do this? How would I feel if I were Nancy Kerrigan, and the person who helped with the worst thing in my life got a movie that made them a hero (or at least an exceptionally tragic and loved figure)?”

And the answer is, i dunno. I feel for what happened to Nancy Kerrigan. I’m glad the people who got jail time, got their jail time. But – I’m crying again! haha… Because the scene of Tonya’s sentencing had me BAWLING. I mean, it was just uncontrollable. My face was soaking wet. My hands (to wipe my tears away) couldn’t move fast enough to compensate for how fast the tears were streaming down my face. I don’t even know if I want to ruin this part for you because you really, really have to watch it. But I’ll put it in the lines below on the off-chance you want to read about it (but you should really see the movie).

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Giant, giant spoiler (skip past the next line to skip this part): Oh my, oh my, this scene hurts so badly. When she’s getting her sentencing, the judge bans her from skating competitively. (I am literally typing through tears.) (This is like potentially even sadder than that scene from Little Miss Sunshine.)

Anyway… he bans her, and she starts begging, “just let me do the jail time. This is like giving me a life sentence! Please! They only got 18 months. I can do 18 months.” And she’s just begging and pleading.

And she’d dropped out of high school to skate – didn’t even have a GED. Skating was her whole life – the only thing she knew. And between her incredibly abusive mom and husband, skating was the only place she ever felt love. And the judge was taking that away from her – her whole life. For conspiring to hinder the prosecution.

She was privy to information on Nancy Kerrigan after it happened, and then started getting involved in trying to help her husband cover it up (to what extent, I’m not completely sure). And while I do understand
a) being afraid of your abusive husband,
b) being scared that you’re gonna be implicated in something you didn’t do, since your own husband was part of it
c) not thinking clearly in the midst of one of the most pressure-filled moments of your life (Olympics! Conspiracy! Media Circus!… It can’t get much more pressure-y than all that!), I also am not going to make an argument as to why we should excuse her behavior, or that she shouldn’t have gotten some punishment. But it’s still devastating to have your whole life taken away from being dragged into your husband’s mistake after it happened.

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Anyway, I’m drained now re-thinking about this movie.

After I got home from the movie, I watched videos of Tonya Harding skate, then interviews with Nancy Kerrigan and/or Tonya Harding, then a documentary on Tonya Harding, and then one on the Olympics in general. (I’ve fallen into a real Olympics-hole, learning about the Magnificent 7, and Becky Hammon playing for Russia, and who even knows what else.)

Anyway, my heart is broken for Tonya Harding and I applaud everything in this fantastic movie. I hope it makes a ton of money and wins a bunch of awards.

I'd love to hear from you! So whaddya say?