The Hanging Garden (1998)

Written and Directed by Thom Fitzgerald
Starring Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Seana McKenna, Peter MacNeill, Troy Veinotte

My Advice: Wait and Rent It.

Ten years after leaving home, William (Leavins) returns for his sister Rosemary's (Fox) wedding to his boyhood friend Fletcher (Joel S. Keller).  But things are pretty much screwed up.  His father's (MacNeill) an even worse drunk than when he left, his mother (McKenna) hates her life, and to top it all off his younger self (Veinotte) appears to have hung himself in the backyard.

Confused?  Well, if you're not used to thinking in the realms of metaphor, then yes, you probably will be.  But if you can clue into Fitzgerald's blend of surreality and reality in not just the same film, but the same frame, then you'll be just fine.  And it's worth cluing in for.  What might trouble a lot of viewers is the idea that the younger William appears to be dead.  However once you can deal with the fact that death, especially in the Tarot, is symbolic of not an ending but merely change, then the conceit of the film opens up fairly well.  The major trouble between William and his family is the fact that he is openly homosexual, but the symbols of change involved will evoke a reaction from anyone who has ever had to break with their family over an issue.

And there's more to just the corpse of William's youth to interpret.  There's the flower-inspired names of the family, a nice contrast to the fact that the father spends more time and energy taking care of his garden than the humans he's supposed to care for.  There's also the inevitable question of religion in the face of William's "ungodly" lifestyle choice--and the way Fitzgerald handles this, with Virgin Mary statues a plenty, is quite pleasing.

If there's one thing that keeps this from going from a good debut to an incredible debut, it's the fact that he's set himself up with a great beginning and middle but far too simple an ending.  Given the amount of thought that went into the build-up, the payoff isn't quite there and it left me with almost a bad deus ex machina taste in my mouth.  Too many things felt resolved either too easily or not resolved at all because no one knew how to resolve them.  It felt contrived rather than clever, which bothered me a bit.  But beyond that, it's still a fairly solid film and definitely worth checking out.

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