Let's be honest. When you get to the core, everyone one of us wants a sense of belonging and purpose. Some people spend their lives trying to hone this purpose, while others will force themselves into a purpose. Tania Head is one of these people, in one of the most bizarre and heinous crimes of human manipulation, chronicled in the great documentary The Woman Who Wasn't There.
Tania, so she claims, was on the upper floor floor of the World Trade Center when the plane hit on 9/11. Holding tight to her arm, which was nearly severed from her body, she escaped down the eighty-some flights of stairs until she collapsed in the arms of a firefighter. Only nineteen people were rescued alive from the floors above where the plane hit. If that wasn't traumatic enough, Dave, her husband of one month, perished in the other tower.
Tania's story was inspiring to other survivors, and her charisma led her to become the head of the WTC Survivors' Network. The only problem, as if you couldn't guess from the title, was that she made it all up. She was never at the WTC. She didn't work at Merrill Lynch as she claimed. Dave was a real victim, but they never knew each other.
The film uses earlier footage of Tania talking about her survival story, footage and interviews from her former friends and fellow survivors, and clever use of illustrations to visualize Tania's story. What causes someone to do this? Was she so starved for attention that this was the only way she could get it? Was she just a manipulative sociopath? How did no one question her on her story? My guess is that in their immediate grief, none of the survivors were in a place to question another survivor, and Tania was able to hold up her rouse for quite a while.
The Woman Who Wasn't There provides all the background and exposition, but will leave you with the question of why someone would do this, and this wondering is part of the appeal of the film. I discussed this film with four of my friends who saw it, and we all had different, but equally plausible explanations of her motives. Playing on Netflix Instant, it's a great watch and a great conversation starter.