Movie Review: ‘Far From The Tree’

Review by Jacquelin Hipes

Andrew Solomon struggled for years to accept his homosexuality, told by his parents—and mother, in particular—that being gay was a choice he could elect not to make. Not so long ago, when he was a young man, it was more than just immoral: loving another man would keep Andrew from ever raising a family and deny his parents the chance to have grandchildren. The overwhelming guilt led him down uncomfortable and, at times, humiliating paths as he tried to condition himself into feeling a physical attraction towards women. Happily for Andrew, he worked through his self-doubt to accept himself as he is, and instead turned his attention to families like his own, where the children and parents are profoundly different from one another.

Andrew’s exploration produced the best-selling book, Far From the Tree, which now serves as the inspiration for director Rachel Dretzin’s documentary. Over the course of its runtime we meet families whose children mentally or physically differ from their parents in significant, often challenging ways. Now an adult with a job and living with two roommates, when Jason was born with Down’s Syndrome his parents were told to send him away “before an attachment could be formed”—laughable to a mother who spent nine months carrying him to term.

Jack started showing signs of autism after he turned two; his inability to communicate with his parents in a way they understood was a source of great frustration to all of them. But they kept trying until, with the help of a therapist, they found a solution (a talking keyboard where Jack can spell out what he wants to say), just like Jason’s mother has never stopped insisting on her son’s intelligence and capabilities, regardless of the label applied to him.

We also meet Loini, a twenty-three-year-old little person, who has never met someone that looks like her before. She and her mother attend the Little People of America Conference, where Loini can finally make the bittersweet announcement that she’s made her first friend. Also in attendance are married couple Leah and Joseph, who must navigate ingrained assumptions and prejudices when they start trying to have children themselves.

Far From the Tree isn’t about answers, though, as much as it is an acknowledgement. Of the difficulties in raising a child so different from yourself, and the guilt that can arise when those obstacles cause frustration or doubt. Of the prejudices faced by those who look or behave differently than expected. (One exchange in particular between a cameraman and one of Jack’s classmates is as poignant as it is illuminating.) And most importantly, it’s an acknowledgement of the unwavering love that parents feel towards their children, an emotion so powerful and unchanging that it supersedes any challenge.

This is no more apparent than in the last family we meet: the parents and siblings of a boy named Trevor Reese, who, at age 16, murdered an eight-year-old child. Experts never came up with a conclusive diagnosis for what could have made Trevor commit that crime and, by all appearances, the Reese household is a loving, supportive place to grow up. His parents still wonder what they could have done differently to avert tragedy…but they still love Trevor, who fell decidedly far from the tree. His may not be the happiest story that Solomon and Dretzin explore—though there are sunny outlooks to be found—but it still follows the common theme. Loving your child is no more a choice than the differences, be they physical, mental, or otherwise, that they must learn to grow and live with. Acceptance is a choice, however, and it’s one that we should all endeavor to make.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.