Australia should be excited. After a highly successful stint in theatre, much-hyped 31-year-old director Simon Stone has just released his film debut with The Daughter.
The secrets of ‘The Daughter’ unravel in a rural timber town in Tasmania, upon a backdrop of unemployment and isolation. At the heart of the town and the plot is Henry (Geoffrey Rush), a wealthy, near-royal presence, whose termination of the local mill at the film’s beginning reveals just how tight-a-grip he clasps on the townspeople’s fate. The town is far from happy but it is functional, until the marriage of Henry to a 31-year-old, which inspires the return of his son, Christian (American actor Paul Schneider), and the return of distant but not forgotten family secrets.
Christian’s return to town is reluctant.
After the suicide of his mother, he harbours a deep resentment towards his father. He has been eloping in America for the past 10 years. On his first night back in town, walking aimlessly through the streets as a means of avoiding a family dinner, he bumps into Oliver (Ewen Leslie), his high school and university friend. This is a reunion: the two haven’t spoken since the suicide and Christian’s move to America. Christian begins to spend large chunks of his time with Oliver and his family, which includes his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto) and eccentric high school daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young).
Another member of the family is Lucky, a duck. Shot and wounded by Henry in the first scene, Lucky finds itself in the care of Walter, Oliver’s kind-hearted but confused father, and Hedvig. The two find a form of solace in the duck. Walter and Hedvig have had their wings clipped by Henry in their own different ways. They feel Lucky’s pain.
It is on a camping trip with Oliver’s family that Christian uncovers a secret. If exposed, the gravity of the revelation would tie their two families together and simultaneously rip them to pieces. Yet, haunted by his mother’s suicide and recent divorce, Christian’s twisted desire to right the calamities of his past pushes him to blow the lid off the buried treasure chest of family lies. ‘Keep your family close, keep your secrets closer’, warns the provocative tagline. Hedvig feverishly begs the symbolic Lucky to heal and to fly as far from the woes of Henry’s world as possible. Everything is about to implode.
There is something gentle about the way the chaos shatters the screen, almost natural.
And it is this naturalness that makes the film resonate. Despite the fantastic nature of the plotline, the events in the film seem to be a very raw reality. Somehow, everything is hauntingly believable.
One way Stone achieves the verisimilitude is through his choice to dislocate the narrative from one particular character.
Often in Hollywood, although there can be multiple pivotal characters, the story itself is dictated by the actions of a protagonist. Here, Harry, Christian, Oliver, Charlotte and Hedvig each hold equally central roles. As a result, the audience witnesses a performance less about the characters and more about the story.
Extra credit can be attributed to Stone, whose cinematographic choice perfectly mirrored the film’s style and mood. With edgy close-ups and shaky camera movements, it was impossible to avoid feeling voyeuristic, and at points I almost felt like I was somewhere I shouldn’t be, watching the lives of people I didn’t know crumble before my eyes. This, coupled with the natural and often humorous dialogue, created a very intimate spectacle.
When the credits rolled, nobody moved or talked.
As if everything we had just witnessed was too much to just immediately put aside, the audience needed a few moments to catch its collective breath and process the drama just watched. Stone had put us into a temporary paralysis.
I want to emphasise this. I began this piece by praising Stone, commenting how Australians should be excited about the young cinematic talent. And yet I know that for the everyday Australians, including myself, we won’t be. In fact, when I was telling my friend about The Daughter, I shocked myself by referring to it as a ‘foreign film’. I called an Australian production foreign! But sadly, this is our mindset. Each local film has become foreign, while the foreign American films have become local.
But this is an example of what Australian cinema can achieve. I am proud, and if you were to watch The Daughter, you would be too. If we feel this way, we can help bring Australian cinema back home.
My Rating: 8/10