Show, don’t tell. Normally, that’s a cardinal rule in movie-making—at least for everyone other than Aaron Sorkin. Using copious amounts of dialogue can be seen as a narrative crutch, a missed opportunity for actors to use their bodies to tell the stories on the page. This is what can make monologues so powerful in the right context; when an actor is so skilled at revealing details on their face and in their body, the chance to shine through both word and whim can be harrowing.
Such is the case of Rebecca Hall’s gripping seven-minute, one-take monologue in Resurrection. It is not only the film’s most staggering moment, it’s one of the best performances in a film this year.
Resurrection follows Hall’s character Maggie, a mother and businesswoman who has resigned to a quiet life with her daughter, Abbie (Grace Kaufman), who is getting ready to leave for college. One afternoon, she spots David, (Tim Roth) a man from her past, sitting a few rows up from her at a conference.
Unsure if what she’s seeing can be real, Maggie flees, sprinting all the way home in a fit of adrenaline-laced fear. After seeing him twice more in public, Maggie confronts David and tells him to stay away from her and her family. David’s response is seemingly nonsensical to the audience, but Maggie understands the strange things he says to her perfectly.
As in most real-life stalking cases, the police are of no help to Maggie, leaving her trapped and unable to tell anyone about what’s happening to her. That is, until late one night in her office, when Maggie’s intern Gwyn (Angela Wong Carbone) stops by to say goodnight. Noticing Maggie’s distress, Gwyn says that Maggie ever needs anyone to talk to, she’s a good listener. Gwyn wants to return the favor after Maggie gave her advice about how to make her feel heard in her own relationship. Maggie looks at her with a wry sincerity. “Do you think you could kill someone?” she asks.
Gwyn says she couldn’t, but encourages Maggie to continue. “Have you ever done something bad?” she asks Gwyn. “You have, unforgivable.” Gwyn and Maggie can both feel the boundaries of boss and employee being crossed, but Maggie has nowhere left to go. She’s bereft, unable to tell her daughter or anyone else in her life the horrors that she’s about to saddle onto Gwyn’s shoulders.
Maggie tells her that when she was 18 years old, she traveled to a research facility in Canada with her biologist parents, where the family met David. “He noticed me,” Maggie says. Hall lets that line land, holding eye contact with Carbone offscreen while the camera lingers on her. Maggie and Gwyn both understand what it’s like to be a young woman in the world, feeling seen for the first time by someone. They also both know how men use that feeling to their advantage time and time again.
Maggie goes on to detail the way that David groomed her. He charmed her parents, worked his way into their everyday lives. It wasn’t long before she moved in with David. “All I knew is that, for the first time, I felt important and appreciated,” Maggie says. “So I didn’t object when he started asking me to… do things. ‘Kindnesses,’ he called them.”
David’s “kindnesses” weren’t of a sexual nature. Instead, they were acts that he used to wear Maggie down slowly over time without her realizing it. Just cooking and cleaning, to start, until he told her to give up drawing, her life’s passion. She obliged every time and he rewarded her. Until the kindnesses evolved and became strangers. Endurance tests, hours of meditation, fasting for days, holding stress position poses. “The more I did, the more inspired he became. Said he could see the future, said he could hear God whispering his name. And I believed him,” Maggie says, and it’s here where Hall’s voice begins to crack.
Instead of looking at Gwyn while she recounts these horrors, she’s dazed and staring forward at nothing in particular, looking back into her memory for the first time in 22 years. Hall confronts and relays all of the darkness of Maggie’s past with such blistering sincerity that it knocks the wind out of the audience. But she’s nowhere near finished.
“Whatever he requested, I could hack it. And if I couldn’t, he’d tell me to burn myself with cigarettes. But I could hack that too.” Hall delivers this blow with resigned acceptance. Her eyebrows are raised and the corner of her mouth moves up just slightly into a surrendered smile. Maggie can’t believe this happened to her either.
Hall’s monologue tumbles into pure, unfettered terror when she starts to detail what happened between Maggie and David when Maggie realized she was pregnant. The turn that the already-unbelievable tale takes is almost biblical, it’s so astonishing. As you watch Hall impart all of this inconceivable trauma, your stomach sinks lower with dread at each new detail, each new fold in Maggie and David’s relationship that you think could never be possible.
But it all rings completely true because of Hall’s stunning performance. Her commitment to this account is simply breathtaking. When the monologue hits its climax, Hall has slowly worked her gaze up from the floor over the last few minutes and is staring at the camera directly, shedding a tear. She’s begging, pleading us to listen to Maggie, to believe the completely unbelievable. With Hall’s performance, we have no choice but to do just that.
After the monologue is over, there is a continued question throughout the film of whether or not the events that Maggie details in those seven minutes actually happened. Are they byproducts of the parts of herself that she gave to David in his kindnesses, memories that have been twisted and tainted to take on the face of an even more sinister level of abuse? Did they happen at all?
Like any good thriller, Resurrection wants us to wonder, to keep us guessing about the reality of it all. But the genius thing about the film, and particularly Hall’s performance, is that it works just as well if you never once question what was recounted in that monologue. Perhaps it’s my own experiences with a manipulative and emotionally abusive relationship—far lighter than the scriptural atrocities of Maggie’s—but it didn’t occur to me to challenge the veracity of her tale. Ours is a world where very fucked up things happen to people who never could’ve invited them—is Maggie’s story really lake unbelievable?
Over two decades later, the untenable horror of what Maggie went through has sunk deep into her bones. It’s primal, and David’s presence has flipped a switch that cannot be turned off again. The twists that Resurrection takes after Hall’s monologue, particularly its confounding ending, lend themselves to more debate. But that astonishing one-take, seven-minute monologue is a feat that is undeniable. If there’s any justice, it will be more than enough to get Rebecca Hall the awards recognition she has so long deserved.