For one battle scene, she was repeatedly made to run a terrifying gantlet of explosives and debris. She jammed cotton balls into her ears to drown out the noise. Another action sequence sent her to the hospital when a detonation startled a horse, causing it to thrust an explosive device in Polley’s direction.
In the essay, Polley reproduces an email exchange she had with Gilliam several years later, writing to him that “i was pretty furious at you for a lot of years,” though she says “the adults who should have been there to protect me were my parents, not you.” (Gilliam replies with an apology for the chaotic film shoot, writing, “Although things might have seemed to be dangerous, they weren’t.”)
Yet a few pages later, Polley finds herself regretting that she absolved Gilliam too easily, having bought into the archetype of “the out-of-control white male genius”: “It’s so pervasive, this idea that genius can’t come without trouble, that it has paved the way for countless abuses,” she writes.
To this day, Polley told me her emotions surrounding “Baron Munchausen” are not easily categorized.
“Was it worth my feeling like my life was at risk and people didn’t care enough about it?” she said. “Probably not.” But when she contemplates Gilliam, “it doesn’t help me particularly to think of him as a villain.” (A press representative for Gilliam said he was unavailable for comment.)
In another chapter, “The Woman Who Stayed Silent,” Polley revisits what she used to call “a funny party story about my worst date ever” with Jian Ghomeshi, the musician and former CBC radio host who in 2016 was acquitted of five charges related to sexual assault.
Describing the episode now without euphemism, Polley says that when she was 16 and Ghomeshi was 28, she left his apartment after he became violent during a sexual encounter in which he ignored her pleas to stop hurting her.