The Daughter (2015)
Dir. Simon Stone
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neill, Ewen Leslie,
Paul Schneider, Miranda Otto, Anna Torv, Odessa Young
Review By Greg Klymkiw
"If you take the life-lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well." Henrik Ibsen, The Wild DuckThough one seldom discovers sentimental bones in the body of Henrik Ibsen's greatest work, it's definitely imbued with the properties of melodrama, which many directors eschew completely, or worse, are unable to work with properly.
The Daughter, a contemporary film adaptation of Ibsen's "The Wild Duck," taken from screenwriter-helmer Simon Stone's stage production, strikes the perfect balance twixt the manufactured artificiality of the play's gloriously melodramatic form twixt the deep core of emotional and thematic truths pulsating under the surface. This yields a genuinely gripping and ultimately moving film experience.
Henry (Geoffrey Rush) is the richest man in town. He and several previous generations of his family have provided the local populace of a sleepy Australian hamlet with its entire reason for being. Unfortunately the devastating emotional downturn of recent years has forced him to shutter his formerly lucrative pulp and paper mill; in turn forcing most of the area's citizenry into seeking employment elsewhere and as such, potentially turning the community into a ghost town.
Ghosts have been lying dormant there for years. A ghost town might be an ideal place to house these hidden spirits as the film contrasts Henry's deeply-entrenched ruling dynasty and that of the working class family headed by Oliver (Ewen Leslie), wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) and reclusive grandpa Walter (Sam Neill).
Out hunting for sport (as the rich are wont to do), Henry wounds a beautiful wild duck. He hasn't the "heart" to put it out of its misery. Somewhat ironically, he's happy to maintain his vast fortune rather than operate his company at a loss to save the life of the community, but he indeed sees a way to save the life of his prey. The duck is dispatched to Grandpa Walter who runs an unofficial animal sanctuary with Hedvig, the latter of whom develops a special attachment to the beautifully feathered creature and its desperate need to fly in spite of a severely wounded wing. (And yes, Hedvig reveals a deep emotional wound later on, which also requires "flight".
Though the recent travails of the mill shutdown wreak considerable devastation upon nearly everyone, our central working class characters seem happy enough to grin, bear it and hope for something new. This element quickly comes in the form of Henry's prodigal son Christian (Paul Schneider) who's lived 15 years in America. It's his first time back since he left and he's grudgingly in attendance for his father's wedding to the very young housekeeper of the estate.
He is, however, extremely delighted to spend time with his old school chum and best friend Oliver, taking a special liking to the whole family - almost taking the place of his own fractured family life.
Here is where the magic of Ibsen and Stone's direction really come to the fore. Slowly and compellingly, the very existence of heretofore repressed secrets are made clear and each major story beat imparts answers which tantalize, but also beg more questions. Stone's direction is intelligent and assured, but he's especially gifted in parcelling out several exquisite melodramatic (in the very best sense of the word) set pieces.
The final third of the film becomes such a powerfully charged and exquisitely wrenching melodrama, that most audiences will be compelled to squirt copious tears in the direction of the big screen. And, of course, the terrible truth behind Ibsen's great line of dialogue rings so sadly and evocatively true, in spite of the film's attempt to yank something vaguely positive out of the whole affair. As far as I'm concerned, THIS is the heart and soul of the film, the play and life itself:
"If you take the life-lie from an average man, you take away his happiness as well."
THE FILM CORNER RATING: ***½ 3-and-a-half-stars
The Daughter is a Mongrel Media and Mongrel International Release receiving its North American premiere as a TIFF Special Presentation at TIFF 2015. For tix, times, dates and venues, visit the TIFF website HERE.