“I, Tonya” Takes An Anti-heroine And Makes Her Human
The roundup of Oscar nominations for 2018 are varied and diverse—- much more so than any other year in recent memory.”I, Tonya,” Margot Robbie’s stellar breakout film as both star and producer, fortifies a diverse Oscar slate with its honest and cutting tale of Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding.
For the majority of millennials, perhaps the story isn’t as clear to us. Here’s the skinny: in 1994, Tonya Harding faced tremendous scrutiny and scandal over her role in the attack on fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan, which was largely orchestrated by Harding’s now ex-husband Jeff Gillooly. Kerrigan, who had her kneecaps bashed in during peak Olympic season, was the figure skating darling of the U.S. team; Harding incurred a bad rap even before the injury scandal—mostly for being too hard, butch, and unyielding to the image of a traditional skater. (The media’s words, not mine.)
In the film, Tonya Harding’s past is brought to light, displaying the terrible waltz that is growing up in an abusive household, being at the mercy of an unfit mother, and having one’s belief in oneself utterly shattered before even really growing up. Harding escaped from the closed fist of one abuser into the arms of another: Gillooly, whom she married at only nineteen years old.
Even without being privy to the unbelievable backstory of Tonya Harding and the horrific event of Nancy Kerrigan’s assault, “I, Tonya” weaves a story of relationships, abuse, and self awareness so incredibly necessary. Robbie strides a delicate line, illustrating Harding’s faults and irresponsible tendencies, but also her genuineness and anxiety of facing a world that demanded a woman be one specific thing. She was an athlete. America wanted a prom queen on skates. Perhaps she came from the wrong side of the tracks, but her talent was overshadowed by the misfortune of her own situation, while abuse remained the raincloud that perpetually wept on any attempt to make something of herself. That, combined with allying herself with the wrong people only dug her further into a hole; the climax of criminal implication nailed the coffin shut. Robbie paints Harding’s failures with wit and likability; as a viewer, you can clearly see how this woman— this character—did herself an injustice by admitting fault for nothing and falling back into repetitive patterns of poor decisions. I felt that the film begged the question, Does childhood shape us so permanently? Can we ever reshape what we were made into in our youth?
The press and media is also wonderfully attacked in this film; the movie swivels full circle as viewers begin to understand the twisted and fateful part each and every sector of the situation played in the scandal. Was anyone truly innocent—that’s is, other than Kerrigan, who truly didn’t deserve to have her knees bludgeoned at random?
What’s perhaps even more fantastic while watching the film— be you a fan of Tonya Harding or not—is the complexity and bold-faced honesty of the character. Who could disagree that more diverse, multifaceted roles need to be written and represented for women? That doesn’t mean they need always be likable– they just need to be honest. They just need to be human. And god knows, what are women if not wonderfully complex?