Trigger warning: depictions of domestic violence
In a non-descript room, Attiya Khan interviews her abuser, Steve. Aside from a few glimpses into her present life, A Better Man is essentially just a conversation betweeen Khan, her abuser, and a facilitator. Khan was 16 when she first started dating Steve, 18, and their relationship was a living hell. 23 years later after the termination of that relationship, after the last hit she has endured, Khan wants answers and closure. Steve has volunteered to provide his insights on the matter and to take responsibility for his actions.
Some documentaries really do wear their hearts on their sleeves: this is one of them. The documentary is short, but no less intense, since Khan and Steve relive a long and nasty encounter that resulted in Khan fearing for her life. Steve is slowly remembering the details: yes, he remembers the glass jewelry box breaking and dragging Khan over the glass, but he doesn’t remember the choking that happened afterwards. Has Steve forgotten details to protect himself? What has Steve been doing all this time?
This film is not easy to watch and nor should it be. Domestic abuse is a serious phenomenon that occurs in our homes, here in Canada. The typical M.O. of an abuser is to isolate his or her victim, which is what Steve did–making Khan fearful of looking up in the halls at school so as not to arouse Steve’s jealousy. Abusers sometimes apologize for the abuse they have caused, yet engage in the abuse again. Steve did this as well: he made promises not to repeat his behaviour and to treat Khan well. Khan came to find no meaning or solace in these words.
Yet, Steve is here. Willing to talk. Old patterns re-emerge when Khan feels sorry and guilty for putting Steve through her healing process. Then she exhibits righteous anger (she’s celebrating 23 years away from him, after all). She’s sitting across from him, sometimes next to him. They take a car ride together to visit their old apartments and the school. She feels like she will puke. He tries to help her.
Watching this process that Khan and Steve go through in this film is not for everyone, especially not those who are absolutely, never going to be safe from their abusers. Khan says as much at the end–that she doesn’t expect everyone to go and find their abusive exes and to engage in conversation. I’m curious what other ways healing could take place if respectful conversations were not an option.
That being said, this is one woman’s journey, and we as viewers should feel privileged to have been invited along.
Sat, May 6, 4:00 PM Scotiabank Theatre 3