By Tracy Wang
From Andrew Solomon’s book, ‘Far from the Tree’, comes a moving documentary film on five families that are all broken because their kids are ‘different’. In just a bit over an hour and a half, we not only get acquainted with these five families, but our beliefs of what normal is are forever changed after we walk out of the theater.
The film centers around five families that respectively have kids with autism, Down syndrome, dwarfism and two who are respectively gay and who murdered one eight-year-old one morning. Though they all come from different backgrounds, and they all have their very own battles to fight through, they are surprisingly similar in that society groups them into one category, the ones who are ‘different’ and sometimes even ‘abnormal’.
The film starts with Jason, a man with Down syndrome who was a superstar during his teen because of his many appearances in TV talking about the syndrome, and we go through some daily life rituals of this family that revolves around Jason, his mother and his two roommates who have this syndrome as well. Then, the film takes us one after another into the lives of Jack, a teenager with autism, Leah and Joe, a couple with Dwarfism, the Reeses, a family who is still trying to cope with the horrific crime done by their son, and finally Solomon, who is scarred by his parents’ past disapproval and distaste of him being gay.
Though the limited amount of time of the film can only allow each family a certain amount of time, each family’s struggles and dynamics are told through the lens of understanding and openness. Through videotapes of the kids’ pasts, and what their lives are now, we experience along with the family the intense struggles and pain they had and are still experiencing on a daily basis.
So rarely do we really get the chance to see what their daily lives are like, we are at times shocked and uncomfortable, and at times moved to tears. When Jack, the kid with autism, uses a letter board to point out that he feels like ‘a tiger in a cage’, because he cannot speak, and when Leah says how she doesn’t think she needs to be fixed even though the whole society says otherwise, we are forced to confront with our lack of knowledge and sometimes understanding as to how these kids or adults are really like.
Usually, because many of us do not have constant contacts with kids or adults who are ‘different’, we have built some images of what their lives are like in our mind based on our limited knowledge, but what this film does is that it literally opens our eyes, and makes us see how these kids are just normal kids if we could only just change our perspectives a bit.
The film grants us a rare treat of seeing their day-to-day struggles, and their families’ journey of coming to understand and live with their kids who have special needs. Finally, we see them as just normal people who have the same desires, the same struggles and the same issues in their families.
Through this film, the people who live with these various conditions walk out of the ‘myth’, and for once, we get to see them as humans who can be happy, sad or angry, who have their own dreams, and who are living just as we all are, instead of seeing them as these medical conditions or disorders.
‘Far from the Tree’ is a film that will open your eyes and widen your minds; it will make you cry, and make you laugh, but most importantly, it will change your ideas or opinions on what normal is, and it will put many of our own issues into perspectives. A film that should be required for everyone to watch, ‘Far From the Tree’ will certainly make this world or just this society a better place to live and to love.