Film Review : Far From the Tree (2017)
Directed by: Rachel Dretzin
Review by: Belle McIntyre
Based on Andrew Solomon’s award-winning book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, this expansive and deeply-felt exploration of the effects of parenting when confronted with anomalies in their children. For Solomon, a gifted and sensitive writer who also happens to be a professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University, as well as the president of PEN American Center, who struggled with his awareness of being gay at a time when it was not widely accepted and particularly by his parents - it began as something personal. However, he expands his reach to include autism, dwarfism and Down’s syndrome as well as criminal behavior.
The stories of these families facing their challenges follows the outcomes of the children into adulthood and most often the heartbreak gives way to acceptance and reconciliation with their circumstances and ultimately gratitude. One of the most moving moments was during an annual convention of Little People. The relief and happiness of those who were for the first time in the presence of others like themselves was so palpable and empowering. In fact, the response to the news that there was a drug being developed to reverse dwarfism was having mixed reactions in their community. Apparently there are many in the deaf community who are resistant to the idea of cochlear implants which might enable hearing. The point being, that there is nothing wrong with being them and no need for a cure. They like who they are. They have adapted and they feel comfortable in their communities . In all of these cases when the “non-conforming” individuals in these various groups were able to find and form affinity groups they essentially became their own tribe and formed deep attachments, experienced joy, love and happiness in the same way, or perhaps more deeply than “normal” groups of humans.
That Solomon follows the families for years allows for so many examples of the strength, joy and happiness which can emerge from struggling to confront and learn coping mechanisms. The families are incredibly candid in admitting their doubts, frustrations, fears and insecurities.
It is intense and personal. Solomon also weaves his own odyssey of his oddness as a kid and finally confronting his homosexuality with his parents, culminating in his current situation as a married man raising two-children with two fathers. What a great dad he must be.
I read the book, which is 800 pages, and I love the film and was so grateful to see that it has been condensed into something which can reach so many more people. I believe that it is more relevant and important than ever for all of us to expand our beliefs about the value of others and to be more, rather than less, accepting and embracing. Andrew Solomon is the perfect messenger with his eloquence, compassion and intelligence. It should be mandatory in schools as a deterrent for bullying. I cannot recommend it highly enough. It will be opening in
the DOCNYC film festival (Nov. 9 - 16) prior to a wider commercial release.