There’s not much in the first episode of Allen v. Farrow that we haven’t heard before. As horrifying as its central stories are, we already know most of them. Woody Allen allegedly pressuring the too-young Dylan Farrow to suck his thumb. Allen watching Dylan sleep. Mia Farrow finding explicit photos of her other daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, in Allen’s possession. These stories have been so well covered they’ve been baked into our collective pop culture consciousness. But until now, they’ve never been seen.
That’s the most shocking element of Allen v. Farrow: its footage. Mia Farrow was always a dedicated documentarian of her children’s lives, and that footage serves as the visual soundtrack to HBO’s docuseries. Segments devoted to family friends complimenting Farrow as a mother are accompanied by scenes of smiling, screaming, running kids, Farrow’s voice always behind the shaking camera. Assurances that Dylan Farrow used to be an upbeat, energetic kid are paired with proof of those claims. Throughout the first hour of the series, a young Dylan happily reads, plays with her siblings and family friends, and gets into tiny spats with her younger brother Ronan.
Footage also exists for the docuseries’ darker allegations. Once the first episode dives into Allen’s relationship with Dylan, something that’s been described by Farrow as having a “wooing quality”, Allen v. Farrow seems to have a limitless amount of film showing the two of them together. As someone describes how Allen would reportedly follow Dylan from room to room, the camera shows Woody following a young Dylan. A figure constantly on the sidelines of a home movie begins to feel more sinister.
It’s roughly 45 minutes in that Allen v. Farrow reveals its most gut-wrenching bit of film. At one point Dylan Farrow recalls how Allen would encourage her to suck his thumb. “I remember sitting on the steps with him at the country house there was nobody else around, and he was directing me on how to suck his thumb, telling me what to do with my tongue,” Farrow says. “I think that lasted a while. It felt like a long time.”
A family friend, Priscilla Gilman, confirms this questionable behavior. “I saw her sucking his thumb which was really really weird. And he said yes this helps her. It calms her down and soothes her to do this.”
That audio is sickening in and of itself. Then there are the visuals. Around the time Farrow and Gilman talk, a shirtless Dylan, no more than six, is shown playing next to Allen. Repeatedly she touches his leg, each time getting a bit closer to the inside of his thigh. Finally when Dylan gets shocking close to his crotch, Allen pulls her hand away.
For decades we’ve heard about incidents like these and they’ve been picked apart in the public eye. That overwhelming tension of this entire case can be felt in this one moment. Was the young Dylan just playing and putting her hands on inappropriate places as kids or wont to do? Or was her hand guided there at one point? Like so many people associated with the case, it’s difficult to determine what these external moments of affection really mean.
Mia and Dylan Farrow have long told one side of this story, and Woody Allen another. In its first episode Allen v. Farrow has proved that its goal isn’t merely to let the Farrow family tell their version of this story. It also wants to open this case up to more direct public criticism.
New episodes of Allen v. Farrow premiere on HBO NOW and HBO Max Sundays.
Originally published at https://decider.com/2021/02/21/allen-v-farrow-hbo-episode-1/ on .