Directed by Shane Belcourt, Beautiful Scars delves into the life of former Junkhouse frontman Tom Wilson and the secrets of his past. As the son of George and Bunny Wilson, a blind war veteran and his overly-protective wife, Tom found solace in his music. With a gift for poetic language, Wilson’s fame came quickly yet put an incredible strain on his home life. What’s more, the discovery that his parents had been keeping a secret from him his entire life sent shockwaves through his system. With honesty and humility, Scars allows Wilson the opportunity to share his story onscreen, including the struggles that dragged him down and the difficult path to rediscovery.
In many ways, Beautiful Scars unpacks two very different but connected narratives. On the one hand, the film is a powerful testimonial of the damage that can be caused when we become obsessed with our own success. Although Wilson his dreams of music stardom, so too does it leave a trail of devastation at home. Fueled by drugs, infidelity and a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, Wilson’s personal indiscretions tore apart his marriage and created a rift between the star and his children. As such, through moving conversations with Wilson’s daughter, Belcourt allows the viewer to hear the heartbreak caused by Wilson’s transgressions. Even so, Wilson’s openness to discuss his rise from the bottom demonstrates the type of humility that it takes in order to bring healing to the wounds that one creates.
However, Scars also focusses on the pain of his lost heritage and the joy of rediscovery. Because the nature of his parentage had been kept a secret from him since childhood, there had always been a disconnect between his family and his soul. Using Super 8 footage projected onto the side of a trailer, Belcourt takes the viewer into the memories of a man who is attempting to put together the pieces of his own life. (In fact, by having Wilson observe the footage himself, Belcourt places some distance between the subject and his story, reinforcing the fact that he’s been uncovering secrets about himself along the way.) As the film explores the ties to his Indigenous heritage, Belcourt’s film also leans into the concept of erasure and the pain that ensues when lives are forced into anonymity. For Wilson, this is a journey into his personal history. Yet Scars also acknowledges that this sort of cultural deletion has happened to many other as well.
In the end, Beautiful Scars is more than a beautiful story of reconciliation. It’s also a story of encouragement for those who yearn to move forward from the pain of the past and the healing that takes place when the pieces come together.
Beautiful Scars is now playing at HotDocs ’22. For screening information, click here.