Here’s our last glimpse of Tania Head, angry, tired of being harassed, staring down a documentary filmmaker’s camera with a look in her eye that says…what? Leave me alone? Get the hell out of my face? She loved America, loved attention, and as we learn in The Woman Who Wasn’t There (2012), loved telling stories about herself that weren’t true. There’s something unspeakably poignant about someone who wanted so much to be a part of America that she lied about her role in our greatest tragedy, the 9/11 terrorist attack on New York.
Yet there’s little about her to like, and she baffles the actual survivors who spent years in therapy. There’s a studied cheerfulness in Tania’s story, as we see old clips of her telling a false tale of how she survived the disaster of 9/11, crawling to safety while people all around her were decapitated and burning to death. To hear her tell it, she was practically struck head on by one of the hi-jacked planes and only survived by a fluke. There was also a fiancé she talked about, a fellow known only as “David,” who perished. She’s especially vibrant when discussing this fellow, spinning tales of a Hawaiian wedding, and personal incidents that sound lifted from old Paul Rudd movies, the portly Tania still astonished at having met such an agreeable lug as “Big Dave.” Later, in the middle of an anxiety attack, she’d visit a monument where David was listed as one of the dead. She’d comfort herself by stroking his name.
But when people grew suspicious of her stories – she’d branded herself as a sort of “super survivor,” developing a network of people who looked up to her for having endured such personal trauma – she grew manic. Her behaviour became so erratic that some feared she would commit suicide.
We find out that Tania was actually from Spain, and her 9/11 ruse was a carryover from an affluent childhood where she often lied, especially about having boyfriends. A born liar, you might say. The New York Times nailed her for the ongoing deception (with more dogged determination, I will add, than they would’ve used to rat out a real terrorist) and then came this film, directed by Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr. Neither the Times nor Guglielmo took much pain to understand Tania; the goal, it seemed, was to punish her, expose her as a fraud and kick her to the curb. Personally, I didn’t share the feelings expressed by some people in the movie, that Tania was evil. I saw her as someone who created an alter ego. She was a phony, but not a monster. Frankly, I was less surprised that she made up such a story, than the fact that she held to it for so long without breaking. The mystery of Tania Head is upheld to the very last shot, a surprise view of her several years after she’d been exposed. There she stands on a Manhattan sidewalk, shocked to be caught on camera, angered that her fantasy life is in ruins.