BFI FLARE REVIEW: ‘The End Of Wonderland’ (2021) is a Thoughtful And Complex Look at a Trans Sex Worker’s Life

“There is enough wisdom and humanity on both sides of the camera for it to be a worthwhile watch.”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

A documentary about a porn performer and creator might seem to have a narrow appeal, as people can be squeamish about sex work despite the amount that the public engages with it. However, it also would be reductionist to suggest that The End of Wonderland is all about this, as its subject Tara Emory has multiple aspects of her life brought to the screen. Her family life, community organising, and transition all manage to be explored in this documentary to varying degrees. There’s undeniably a great challenge in bringing all those strands together.

The main location of the film is the titular Wonderland, an outbuilding next to Tara’s house that functions as her creative space, office, car workshop, and party hall. It is surprisingly far into the film that its name is actually brought up, and it’s not an association that comes naturally since its purpose is largely functional. Wonderland does obviously play a big part in Tara’s life, but there’s too much time spent in the building watching her tinker away. It reflects a film that hasn’t been made with quite enough awareness of the audience, with viewers not even told what year the documentary is set during.

Tara looks sidelong at the camera, wearing a purple bob, a heavily shouldered outfit, and enormous star-shaped earrings
Image courtesy of Fraser Films

Tara’s life is clearly one that expands far beyond four walls, though, and throughout the film the audience sees how she has a place in numerous different circles. These circles seem to be quite contrasting, from queer parties to car shows. It’s quite affecting to see people hold Tara in such a high regard even in communities that might not seem to be trans-friendly, such as male-populated, car-focused ones. This makes some of the focus on her at home worthwhile, as it results in a powerful contrast between an independent person and her vast social impact.

A running theme is of the influences that make up Tara’s life, and a major one is that of her family. Her dad looms large with his passion for cars and tendency to hoard them, and Tara has inherited both of these things. Hoarding is something the audience sees her grapple with, and one might assume her constant busyness is to stop herself falling into the singular obsession she witnessed growing up. Her mum’s impact seems less complex, with her creative past and acceptance of her trans daughter seeming to also reflect in her daughter’s life. Exploring how Tara’s parents play a part in her life is an interesting reminder of how people’s backgrounds shape them, no matter who they are or what their lives have become.

Tara is laughing with her head high int he air, wearing a polkadot dress and strawberry earrings. A man in a straw hat leans against a car chatting whilst another, his body just out of shot, holds a beer and listens in
Image courtesy of Fraser Films

Perhaps the film’s most important message is about poverty and opportunity, something that largely isn’t foregrounded but definitely plays a part in Tara’s life. She seems to enjoy the playfulness of the sex work that she does, working with people she likes and doing imaginative, raucously silly projects like a sci-fi porn spoof. However, it is work, and it is a necessity to fund her transition. Her family isn’t shown to be rich in any capacity, either, and there is a sense that this is cyclical in her dilapidated house and rented “Wonderland”. Tara’s capacity to push on and reinvent is impressive, though it’s partially and unfairly a necessity for her to survive.

Tara’s life is an interesting one, and the way that it’s presented has multiple angles to draw people in. The documentary does warrant perhaps a bit more of a directorial hand, however, as it only hints at its ideas. Rarely is anything said concretely, with too square a focus on Tara rather than the worlds that she inhabits. There isn’t a strong enough throughline for everything to feel like it’s driving somewhere, but there is enough wisdom and humanity on both sides of the camera for it to be a worthwhile watch. It does, nevertheless, endear the viewer to the interesting and compassionate individual at its centre, and undoubtedly has plenty of food for thought. Anyone interested in seriously considering the forces that shape people’s lives, particularly those that don’t fit into conventional boxes, should take a peek into Wonderland.

Cast: Tara Emory
Director: Laurence Turcotte-Fraser
Producer: Katerine Lefrançois
Release Date: 2021