Review: The Hanging Garden

It would be a lot easier to dismiss The Hanging Garden if its fetishized details weren’t so naked and boldly autobiographical.

The Hanging Garden
Photo: Goldwyn Films

It would be a lot easier to dismiss The Hanging Garden if its fetishized details weren’t so naked and boldly autobiographical. Thom Fitzgerald, who wrote and directed the film with the assistance of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, comes out of the gate aiming for the cinema du boutique hat trick: unmistakably character-driven, Eurocentric (oh, that Nova Scotia-Irish fiddle music!), and ever-so-gently arty. The plot, though somewhat obscured by the room Fitzgerald’s surrealism leaves for alternate readings, deals with William, a fat and gay teenager with a dysfunctional extended family, and moves between two time periods: his chubby teenage years and his slim-and-sexy adulthood (after having spent 10 years “in the city”). When Fitzgerald concentrates on the unforced but completely assured homosexuality of his protagonist as an adult (played with a magic combination of aloofness and charm by Chris Leavins), the undertone of wish-fulfillment couldn’t be more discernable (i.e. the transgressive thrill of having his cinematic stand-in brag to his sister that he used to let men fuck him for money). And on the filp side, the baby steps toward painting William’s unhappy, confused adolescence are barely sufficient—one slap across the face from garden-tending Poppy, one embarrassing first stab at gay intimacy, and one scene that has Mum nudging young William into the lair of a whore to straighten him out. None of these are dwelled upon, and Fitzgerald’s apparent hesitation to delve into these should-be-much-more-painful scenes ends up sabotaging the significance of William’s attempted suicide (the titular garden refers to the noose William ties to the garden’s tree). The classic cry for help seems, in this case, far too overreaching. But when Fitzgerald sets his sights on the extemporaneous subplot, he sometimes hits the bull’s-eye. For instance, the portrayal of an aging family dog which constantly runs into things and falls down a flight stairs, gives extra weight to the subplot about the family’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted grandmother. It’s a shame that Fitzgerald didn’t lavish as much thought and sympathy into his view of the rest of the family.

 Cast: Chris Leavins, Troy Veinotte, Kerry Fox, Peter MacNeill, Sarah Polley, Seana McKenna, Joel S. Keller, Joan Orenstein, Christine Dunsworth  Director: Thom Fitzgerald  Screenwriter: Thom Fitzgerald  Distributor: Goldwyn Films  Running Time: 91 min  Rating: R  Year: 1997  Buy: Video, Soundtrack

Eric Henderson

Eric Henderson is the web content manager for WCCO-TV. His writing has also appeared in City Pages.

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