August 13, 2016
“Nothing Like The Sun” started as a documentary project on insane asylums titled “Misfit Affection” based on the 1892 Alice Mitchell Trial under the same newspaper headline, which painted the picture of a Tennessee murderess who gained national notoriety after killing her female lover for betraying her – a subject that had piqued my curiosity during my college years at UCSB. Though it would be inaccurate to say that my interest in Alice Mitchell was even remotely rooted in Sapphistries, a topic she and I have nothing in common, her social pathology is inherently relatable: a character living outside of their time but also existing in it, ebbing against the flow of history; a detached tale of modern alienation universally understood.
Although the concrete details of Alice Mitchell’s life have been obscured by the passage of time (and further obscured through “dramatic” storytelling), I was confident her struggle with rejecting and conforming to the social reality of the world she lived in would provide an authenticity unique to her situation: a person is a product of the era they are born into; one does what is right for them, and they play the hand they are dealt. Connecting the historical sections of the screenplay to our larger shared history required Alice be a character fascinating to observe, though not necessarily a character we can empathize with. Her battle with herself reminds us that the best outcomes do not necessarily come from the best choices and vice versa.
While the story’s world and constructs are specific to Alice’s character, I did not approach it as a “small” film or even as an “indie” film. It was not intended to sway one’s social, religious or political beliefs; and there is nothing groundbreaking about it. The film’s narrative unfolds in a rather conventional way. What has been will be again. As Wernher von Braun stated, “nature [and history] does not know extinction; all it knows is transformation.”
But remember that though “Nothing Like The Sun” is based on a true story, it is still only fiction. One can only guess at what drove nineteen-year-old Alice Mitchell on January 25, 1892 to slit Freda Ward’s throat and leave her to die in a pool of her own blood. Or what kind of society it was that conspired to drive her to madness by keeping her in ignorance of her own character and emotions; and ironically, as a result, kept this society in child-like ignorance of its own inner workings.
History has, after all, proven that truth is often stranger.