*Note: Spoilers below. Go read the book.*
As Brenna has already told you, several of us from the CALYX office took a road trip to Vancouver, BC to see the Vancouver International Film Festival showing of Into the Forest. We live(ish) tweeted, ate poutine (because, Canada, eh!), and extensively discussed our reactions. Much like other reviewers I found the film to be beautifully acted and a striking contrast to more traditional novels that address social collapse from the outside in rather than focusing on the very personal realities of re-learning life. I had strong feelings about Eva’s dancing—in the book she is a ballerina, here they made her a modern dancer—but more about that later. The part that has, fascinatingly, stuck in my mind is the most neglected (literally) third major character of the film.
What we saw was a deliberate and holy narrowing of focus, but not possibility, to a trinity of family and home.
It’s not, as several reviews have argued it should be, the forest itself. I found Patricia Rozema’s “direction” of the forest to be beautiful and realistic—I didn’t feel it necessary for it to be scarier, looming, or encroaching; the scariest interactions are with other desperate people, something I felt to be realistic. The gorgeous presence of the forest outside of Eva’s studio windows, indeed all the windows, seemed to me to encompass the land that is waiting to sustain and embrace the sisters, but that they hold at bay, to the extent of covering windows and boarding up doors for as long as possible.
No, it is their house that I found to be the fascinating third to their duo—a fickle and somewhat crotchety character mirroring the ways in which society has failed to keep these girls safe. It begins somewhat obviously when the power goes out. They literally speak to the house (“lights on”) and receive no answer, but then the house begins to speak to them. The static from their emergency radio, the drips as water enters through the unpatched roof, the creaking groan of the timbers as rot takes hold. The house is ever changing and constantly communicating its power over the sisters.
Perhaps this was clearer in the book, but as a very visual person I found the hulking presence of their house as it slowly falls down around them to be an inspired directorial choice. The powerful dystopic statement of two young women confined to home and hearth as childhood dreams are destroyed felt terrifyingly possible. Eva and Nell are literally being stifled—Eva must leave the house to be able to safely give birth, the mold and decay of the house makes it unhealthy to inhabit, and neither sister can grow past regretting what has been lost while confined to the clearing of their childhood.
Perhaps because of the ways in which our society regards home and hearth, kinship work, child raising—in short ‘women’s work’—to be unworthy of great literature, this has been overlooked by many who felt that the movie should be bigger in scope. Instead what we saw was a deliberate and holy narrowing of focus, but not possibility, to a trinity of family and home. As such, it was fitting that when a third arrives, Eva and Nell are finally able to break free of walls and redefine themselves.