The Hanging Garden
© 1998-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

      Hyperbole is not my usual style, but I
have to say
the most original, thought-provoking and
exciting films I have seen. It is that rare movie
that forces the audience to think and draw its
own conclusions. Writer-director Thom
Fitzgerald has crafted a world that treads a
fine line between reality and surrealism and
has succeeded in crafting a story that is open
to multiple interpretations. I suspect that
those who are privileged to see this
extraordinary film will engage in debates
over just what Fitzgerald intended.

      The opening sequence, which features
a child reciting names of flowers and when
they bloom (which also happen to be the
names of the principal characters of the film
— something which in the hands of a lesser
talent could have been twee). We then are thrust in the midst of a wedding in
progress, with the bride dawdling, ostensibly waiting for the arrival of her younger
brother who left home ten years prior. Fitzgerald shoots the arrival of the brother as
if he were a movie monster:
The camera catches glimpses parts of him, legs, feet, an arm, an eye. It is a long
time before the whole person is seen on screen, and then he is in the throws of an
asthma attack. As he prepares for the wedding, donning a tuxedo several sizes too
big, he catches glimpses of himself at a young age. He finally makes his entrance at
the wedding and soon finds that his family is as crazily dysfunctional as always. His
foul-mouthed sister Rosemary is far from a blushing bride. Grandmother Grace has
sunk further into the haze of Alzheimer's disease. Father Whiskey Mac continues to
drink and become abusive. There is a tomboyish sister Violet he never knew. Mother
Iris is tightly wound and just barely tolerating everything. And his new brother-in-
law Fletcher shares a boyhood past with him.

      Once Fitzgerald has put all the pieces in place, things progress in a fascinating
manner. William, who weighed over 300 pounds as a teenager but is now slim,
begins to regress. He stuffs his face when no one is looking but refuses offers of
food from his mother. He also continues to see visions of himself as a small child,
squirreling away food and feeding himself when no one was looking. It becomes
clear that William left home as a teenager because he was gay and his family could
not accept that. In an extended flashback that is the film's second act, Fitzgerald
allows the audience to learn more about William as a teenager. His classmates
make fun of him because of his weight, his father verbally and physically abuses him
and William seeks solace in his friendship with his sister's boyfriend Fletcher. When
his grandmother sees him in a compromising situation with Fletcher, things go from
bad to worse. Iris, goaded on by her meddlesome sister-in-law, decides to "cure"
William by bringing him to a local woman who acts as a part-time prostitute. There
is a terrifically amusing scene as the housewife leads William to her bedroom while
Iris baby-sits the prostitute's young son; Fitzgerald keeps the camera focused on
Iris as a world of emotions play over actress Seanna McKenna's face. This section of
the film ends with the attempted suicide of William, who hangs himself from a tree
in the garden. Returning to the present, William must now confront his past and its
repercussions. His mother—who has functioned as the family's glue—quietly departs
after Rosemary's wedding triggering the revelation of family secrets and forcing
everyone to come to terms with their actions.

      The suicide scene opens up all sorts of possibilities: is William really there or
is this his ghost or the projection of Rosemary or something else entirely? Fitzgerald
wisely chooses not to offer pat answers. The audience is left to ponder and draw its
own conclusions. That is the real treat of this gem of a film. Working with the
production designer and cinematographer, the director has given the film a bold,
vibrant look.

      Fitzgerald has also elicited strong performances from his cast. New Zealander
Kerry Fox plays Rosemary as an adult with the incredible Sarah Polley as the
teenage version. Both are stunning and create a single believable character. As Iris,
Seanna McKenna handles a difficult role well portraying a woman struggling to
maintain her family but who finally can't with delicacy and nuance. Peter MacNeill is
appropriately horrifying as the abusive father and Joan Orenstein as the
grandmother etches a memorable portrait of a religious woman who falls prey to
Alzheimer's. Joel Keller makes a playful and sexily ambiguous Fletcher.

      The success of the film, however, rests on the two actors who share the role of
William. The novice Troy Veinotte, who handles the teenager, projects the right
amount of sweetness and passivity. Chris Leavins as the adult William acquits
himself nicely.

      Granted this is not a perfect film, but it is one that offers much to discuss and
debate. I left the theater feeling deeply moved and intellectually challenged. In
today's climate, that is a triumph as far as I'm concerned. Thom Fitzgerald clearly
possesses an unique and exciting voice, one I hope movie audiences will be hearing
from for many years to come.


                      Rating:            A-
                      MPAA Rating:   R for strong sexuality, language, and a scene
                                               of a hanging, and some teen drug use
                      Running time:  91 mins.