Evan Rachel Wood’s heroic takedown of Marilyn Manson chronicled in “Phoenix Rising”

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Credit: HBO Max

Dan Buffa, Special For The Jewish Light

“I’d step in front of a train for you.” 

That’s what Sara Wood, Evan Rachel Wood’s mother, tells her daughter in the second episode of the HBO Max mini-series, “Phoenix Rising.” The Jewish actress and her fight to break free of an abusive relationship with Marilyn Manson is chronicled in the two-part series, which premiered in late March.

We pick up her fight in the fall of 2020 as she prepares to publicly reveal Manson’s torment to the whole world. Wood and her assistant, Illma Gore, gather video and photo evidence while the actress, in heartbreaking fashion, recounts the awful years she spent with the gothic rock singer. Sara and Evan’s dad, Ira David Wood III, come to her aid during the film, along with her brother Ira David Wood IV–but it’s the calming moments spent with the actress as she drowns in contemplation and disgust with her own choices.

While “Phoenix Rising” does open us up to Wood’s inner circle and reveal horrible truths about Manson, it also breaks down the victim’s experience. For the hoards of people who will ask her why she didn’t do all of this sooner, there’s a strong and immediate answer presented in this hard-hitting two-part series. The tug of war between the anguish and acceptance of the past isn’t taken lightly by Wood or the other creators of this work here. Viewers see the “Westworld” actress stripped down emotionally, even admitting that Manson once used a Nazi-branded whip on her.

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According to Wood, he used her Jewishness against her constantly, carrying out the white supremacist themes in his music, which was being consumed and adored by millions as he shattered her life apart. As every witness and interview passes, you begin to find out that Evan was one person before she met Manson and an entirely different person after she escaped his clutches. But the insidious thing about abuse is that it lingers for years. Even as we see her make a triumphant stand for herself and so many others, Wood is still healing from the wounds. There’s no holding back here at all. Bring tissues.

The heart of the matter is Wood’s ability to help several other women come out and share their Manson abuse stories. Scenes with her leading a living room full of abuse victims carries more weight than most of her film roles, and she’s a fine actress. A movie like Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler” will always feel a little different now due to the fact that “Phoenix Rising” shows it was only the beginning of Wood’s most tumultuous period with Manson.

Several times throughout the mini-series, Wood either tells someone she is Jewish or reminds viewers she is Jewish. But for her, it became more than a birthright. For over a decade, it was something her oppressor used against her. Bells are rung when the audience finds out from other people who worked with him that this wasn’t just done to Wood. But it was her Jewish background that he pressed on, even branding her at one point on her hip. A mark that a few of the other women have in that living room gathering as well.

For years, I can admit to knowing who Wood was due to her relationship with Manson, before her film work gathered steam and her career took off. All the while, it was running just to stand still, something “Phoenix Rising” nails into the ground. A tender moment with her dad, who wasn’t a great dad early in life but picked up a save by being there for Wood during recent hardships, swells up the chest late in the film. But hearing her mom candidly tell her in the kitchen that she would step in front of a train for her is something any man or woman in this world can relate to. The fallback nest of protection that family can provide.

I didn’t feel like I knew much about Wood and her life before clicking play on her new mini-series, but I feel like I will not forget her story now. The bittersweet aspect of life is that human beings don’t get to plan when people see them for who they really are or find out what they have done–but when it does happen, the feeling one gains from it is priceless.

I’ve never been happier to see someone make a post on Instagram and during that moment where Wood does one-click her years of trauma to the world, it feels like the hero of the story lands the final blow to defeat the bad guy. For the people who still think the public should decide when a victim reveals his or her story, “Phoenix Rising” will set the record straight. It’s where I found out those victims are actually the real heroes.

HBO Max is currently streaming both episodes of the mini-series.