The Greenhouse is a gorgeous film about mourning, and about the lure and grasp of nostalgia. When Beth wakes up one night and wanders into a greenhouse in the woods near her home, she finds herself in her own past, watching moments she lived through happen. Like a Dickensian ghost, she can watch herself, her siblings, her mothers, but she cannot interact with them. It’s meditative, slow, and mesmerizing. With great sound design and a muted-tone aesthetic, writer/director Thomas Wilson-Wright makes an impressive feature debut.
After losing her mother Lillian, Beth (Jane Watt) decides to stay in the family home to take care of her other mother, Ruth (Camilla Ah Kim). Her other three siblings have all left, moved away from their childhood home. They’re all returning for a weekend to celebrate Ruth’s birthday, and it’s clear that Lillian’s death has placed a strain on the relationships between the siblings, particularly with Beth.
While each of the siblings are dealing with Lillian (Rhondda Findleton)’s passing, it seems that Beth is not only grieving, but also depressed. It’s not just that she’s sleeping late, and eating ice cream with Ruth as they watch Beth’s sister Doonie (Kirstie Marillier) on television; Beth is in mourning, deeply affected by the loss of her mother. Beth is also rattled after running into her old friend Lauren.
The Greenhouse, which is about a queer family – two women who raised four children – shows us Beth fighting with her own sexuality. She denied herself happiness and authenticity when she hid her relationship with her old friend Lauren (Harriet Gordon-Anderson), who was also her first love. Much to Beth’s surprise, her siblings all knew about her relationship, and would have encouraged it. Not only did they have queer parents, but one of Beth’s brothers is also gay, having brought his boyfriend home for the reunion.
As Beth grapples with her siblings in the present, she also escapes as often as she can into the past. Running to the greenhouse in the woods, she begins to step into more emotionally-charged memories of her and her siblings. When she sees Ruth doing the same, Ruth issues an ominous warning – that going into the past is dangerous.
While The Greenhouse is a family drama, it derails a bit in the third and final act. As the story veers towards being a thriller, it becomes stranger. It’s surprising, but not unwelcome. This sudden ascent to tension and peril will be polarizing to viewers, who will either love the swift change, or find it too abrupt. This final act feels like Beth is realizing the urgency of her situation; she cannot live in the past, and she cannot continue lying to herself.
The abstractions of this final act serve as visual metaphor for a family falling apart. Just as Ruth issued Beth a warning about being stuck in the past, The Greenhouse warns against denying ourselves and punishing ourselves with our pasts. These aren’t groundbreaking themes or brand new territory, but it’s Thomas Wilson-Wright’s vision is refreshing. The Greenhouse is ultimately a beautiful queer story, mixing a familiar tale of grief and loss with Beth’s own interior struggle, and with what it means to be a family.
The Greenhouse, like films like A Ghost Story, belongs more in the category of magical realism than any other genre. Where magical realism lends itself beautifully to literature, it can sometimes be too poetic to translate well to screen. The Greenhouse manages to balance this abstraction of it’s themes and visual symbolism with a strong story about a family working through a major loss together.
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