White Lie (2019)

“I hated my life before I had cancer.”

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Directed by Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas
Starring Kacey Rohl, Amber Anderson, Connor Jessup and Martin Donovan

White Lie (2019) explores the mental health disorder, Munchausen syndrome (also known as factitious disorder imposed on self), where a patient feigns a disorder or disease to gain attention and sympathy from those around them. White Lie is a very challenging film as it invites us to voyeuristically watch as Katie Arneson (Kacey Rohl) desperately fights to keep her lie from falling apart. It provides the space for us to question our own empathy – who do we believe and why? Even if we know someone is lying, can we still be empathetic?

Rohl’s performance is heartbreaking, and with no hair to hide behind, she really shines. Rohl’s ability to convey Katie’s desperation along with Lev Lewis’ haunting score allows the film to walk the line between a character piece and a thriller. White Lie explores Munchausen syndrome to a ticking clock as Katie’s lie unravels and she fights to keep from being exposed.

The film distances the audience allowing us the space to explore our own emotions. We watch Katie’s most intimate moments through doorways, from the back seat of cars and from the back of Katie’s head as she shaves her hair, buys prescription drugs from her dealer and forges medical records. We are like her neighbour – watching her every move as we judge her from the outside. We are only invited in when she is being truthful, begging us to understand her and to love her.

White Lie further asks us to explore our own emotions by not hiding the lie from us. We know Katie is lying about her disease from the opening credits when ‘White Lie’ appears across Katie’s fundraising banners. We begin by distrusting her, and yet, somehow, she manipulates us as she manipulates everyone else and we find ourselves wanting her to find a solution as her lie comes crashing down around her. Questions about our own morals rattled around long after the credits – Does she deserve this empathy? Or does she get what she deserves?

Our human instinct to trust those around us, especially those we think are in need of help, is questioned. Katie manipulates her girlfriend (Amber Anderson) into giving money that is supposedly for a flight to Seattle to trial an experimental treatment, even though Katie’s excuses become more and more convoluted as she tries to cover her lies, Amber still wants to believe her:

“I need cash actually. My debit is overdrawn so anything that goes into the account will just pay off the balance”

“Wouldn’t it just be easier for me to book you a ticket on my credit card?”

“Kadisha actually already booked me a ticket. I just need to pay her back”…”I’m sorry I know I’m not handling this well”

“So couldn’t I just email Kadisha the money then?”

“No, because I already feel bad about borrowing from her and I don’t really want her to know that I borrowed from you to pay her back. I know I made things really complicated but can we just take out the money tomorrow?”

Katie also has not done her research, she does not know what kind of melanoma she has, she does not know how chemotherapy regimes work;

“I’ve been going once a week for 3 months now”

“No, thats not how..you probably wouldn’t go that frequently… No chemo regime is weekly”

“Well everyone knows I go once a week.”

and yet no one questions her, even though she is publicly fundraising and she has been given over $20,000 in donations. White Lie is asking us to examine who we give our money to, and whether they stand up to scrutiny.

White Lie also explores the manipulation of social media. This is quite topical as the President of the United States of America has been banned from social media recently, due to manipulating thousands of people into believing the lies he posts on social media. Katie’s fundraising campaign is featured heavily on social media and is taken down when her father (Martin Donovan) posts that she is lying about her cancer diagnosis. Without any evidence either way except Katie’s shaved head the people around her do not know who to believe. Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas provide a warning to never trust what you see on social media and even though events or posts may get taken down that is not evidence that a post is fact or fiction, just that a social media company has deemed the post ‘problematic’.

This Facebook post is made public on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. It presents Katie with the option to either atone for her sins or to continue with her lie. Christopher Lew’s cinematography is on display throughout this scene as Katie moves from dark, heavily shadowed shots, to the stark brightness of the bathroom as we learn her secret has been exposed and then back to the dark as she decides to continue her deception.

Lewis and Thomas created a thrilling, unsettling character piece that questions our own empathy, vulnerabilities and beliefs and manipulates us into going against our own good judgement. It is a very challenging watch, especially if someone close to you has been diagnosed with cancer, but I do recommend it for your Friday Night Film Night.

White Lie is available on DirecTV, Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, FlixFling, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, Vudu, Fandango & Google Play.

Images provided by TriCoast Studios and Rock Salt Releasing.

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