Critique of The Tree

I had the opportunity to see The Tree, a Franco-Australian film that tells the story of a family’s trials and tribulations following the unexpected death of the father. It is a film adaptation of the book Our Father Who Are in the Tree. The story follows a family of six (a mother, a father, and four children). There life seems to be that of the “average” family, comfortable living, basic necessities, everyone is happy until one day the father comes home and dies of a heart attack while driving the car. The car crashes into the families fig tree. Upon his death the entire family is distraught, but the mother (Dawn) in particular is made extremely depressed. She is unable to move, opting to stay in bed all day only to be short fused when her children call for her. Eventually the daughter (Simone) is climbing the tree and hears the voice of her father coming from the tree’s leaves. Simone shares this with her mother, bringing the two individuals closer with this shared secret. Their bond is then threatened when Dawn begins to have a relationship with her boss, George. George interjects himself in their lives, helping around the house (plumbing, basic repairs, etc). George comes to the conclusion that the tree must go as it is destroying the houses’ plumbing. As expected, Simone is furious and storms away. The house goes on to break a wall of the house at which Dawn calls for its removal. Simone protests this by climbing the tree, even after George arrives with a crew to take away the tree. As George goes up to get Simone, the girl only climbs higher threatening to jump. Dawn begins to freak out and demands George stop, he listens. Once he comes down Dawn says she never wants to see him again. Following this dramatic scene the house is destroyed by the tree following a storm. The family picks up and moves under the saying “life is long”, implying that they are only continuing their journey. Overall this film is a nice transition for someone looking to explore international films. Superficially it is a lot like American cinema, in terms of lighting, language (for the most part), angles, shots, character types, etc. When reexamined there are large differences in terms of cultural values, driving on different side of the road (somewhat superficial), vocabulary, and themes. This movie has heightened my interest for foreign cinema and I am hoping to go to another film before the festival ends.

The father was the family’s sole provider, leaving the mother (Dawn) alone to keep the family and house together. A rather large portion of this film focuses on the individual family members’ struggle with the death of the father. Simone’s path to acceptance is particularly interesting and is ultimately the set-up for the main story of the film. This eight-year old girl starts to believe that she can connect with her father through the tree, as if his soul has transferred from his old body to a new one. His voice is “spoken” through the leaves, and it must be absolutely silent for Simone to hear her father. It is this tree that serves as Simone’s point of origin and tranquility, returning to it when she becomes involved with conflicts with other people and family members.

The main tension displayed within the film is that between Dawn (the mother) and Simone as a result of Dawn taking on a new relationship. Prior to the relationship, Simone entrusted her mother with the secret of the tree. This helped to form a strong bond between mother and daughter, as well as help them both cope with the loss. The two of them enjoy spending time in the tree as a means of meditation and reflection. When Dawn gets a new job to help manage the family’s finances, she becomes romantically involved with her boss, George. He is a plumber that Dawn then utilizes to help with a pipe problem at the home, caused by the tree.

The relationship between Dawn and George continues to grow and deepen, going so far as to merge their two families for Christmas at the beach. When they return from their vacation, they realize that the tree has grown much like their relationship. The branches of the tree have crashed through the house; breaking windows, wrapping around pipes, grasping columns, etc. This monstrous growth pushes Dawn to act in the name of its removal, asking George to do it. One day George brings a large group of men to the house in an effort to eliminate the inconvenience that is the tree. At this sight, Simone scurries up her new temple in protest. George follows her on a ladder, demanding that she come down and Dawn controlling her daughter. Simone then threatens to jump, which pushes Dawn to recall George. At first George is hesitant to listen, but eventually succumbs to Dawn’s demand. Once he reaches the ground, Dawn ends their relationship.

Following a massive cyclone, the house is destroyed as a result of the tree. The family packs what they can into a car, setting off to continue living their lives.

At one point Dawn remarks that “life is long”, which helped to illuminate an underlying theme of life as a journey filled with struggles one must endure. In the case of this family it is the death of their father, the destruction of their family like that of their house, and an uncertainty as to where to go from here. The family endures and ultimately comes out better for it, moving on to the next step of their lives.

A minor theme is the idea of the father main structure (tree) and patriarch of the family. Once the father dies, the loss of this figure disrupts the entire family, causing massive emotional chaos. However, the family must reorganize and cope with the loss in order to continue to exist. Although they start off broken, they move to be a puzzle more pieced together. It is this growth that provides the underlying strength that will serve them all in the future. In some regards, this theme is reinforced by the underlying spirituality within the film; the transferring of souls, talk of the afterlife, etc.

The struggles, dialogue, and humanistic reactions allow for the audience to identify with the film, helping to establish its believability and foster the overarching emotional context. The fantasy-esque ideal of the father becoming the tree is more of  a means of symbolism and an 8 year old’s imagination. If anything it is this fanatical idea that makes the movie more “real” by establishing a more realistic emotion and presenting common themes of family.

However, the script is somewhat superficial and at times the acting was less then what could be hoped for.  There were scenes where dialogue was overly predictable or too much/little emotion was put into the dialogue. The best acting tended to come from the younger cast members, as for their older castmates—their acting made this film seem more of a straight-to-DVD-like film. What helped to keep the emotion of the movie alive and strong was the use of certain lighting techniques as well as wonderful music choices. These two dynamics built an stronghold of emotion. Unfortunatly, I don’t think I was ever entirely captivated by the film. It is not that I didn’t identify with the emotions, struggles, or characters, rather the acting made parts unbelievable.

I would recommend this movie to film-critics as well as the average viewer looking to watch something not in their usual forte. It is a nice balance of generic cinematic qualities as well as some new ones.

Film Project, The Red Balloon and I:

Movie Poster:

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Final Project Proposal:

Final Project Proposal