The Hanging Garden (1997) Poster

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petshop21 February 1999
Sometimes overly poetic in its gardening parallels, this story of a young man who returns to home after a number of years is intense, mysterious, and certainly not lacking in style. In a unique mixture of flashback fantasy sequences, where characters in the past actually interact with those in the present, we see an overweight teenager come to grips with his homosexuality and the returning adult come to grips with his childhood self.

This is an amazing directorial debut, and the abundance of cinematic tricks are a welcome storytelling tool. Virgin Mary Icons smile at us; a grown man witnesses the suicide he committed in his youth.

The director chooses not to draw thick boundaries around the sexuality of his characters, but doesn't fall into the trap of making them frustratingly ambiguous. Often this leaves the sour aftertaste of homophobia.

The mysterious final chapter closes without the pomp and glory that more established directors might have resorted to. It's subtlety complements its outlandishness in a way that doesn't leave you confused.
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desperateliving2 September 2004
I'd seen portions of this film on TV when I was about 12, and it frightened me -- I thought it a perversely arousing horror film. Watching it now, I see that it's actually a pretty smartly made literary piece about a family (I could only remember the disturbing images indicated by the film's title). It does have its share of comedy -- there's a lightness in tone that comes mainly from the profuse swearing of the Maritime newlywed (Kerry Fox) who takes part in one of the more awkward marriage processions in recent memory (which also features Ashley MacIsaac on fiddle), and whose marriage instigates the return of her ten-years-gone brother, William. The telling of the film is centered around three tenses of William's life -- his childhood memories, his fat teenage years, and his current appearance -- which are cut up, rearranged, and presented to us, though the unique thing is that Fitzgerald chooses also to surreally intersperse them together into the present one: our current William sees his young self using food as a comfort, and he sees his teen self leave behind his obese body in favor of his current slim frame.

I liked the way that Fitzgerald chose to tackle the mind's abstract identity in this very literal way and I think it makes the film more interesting than its abusive-father/thoughtful-mother family drama otherwise would be. There are some nice touches in the film, like William's apparent young sister who he seems to have swapped gender roles with, and there are some really clever scenes like the one where the current William rushes to help his father -- and his father seeing that his grown son has been playing dress-up; or the scene where his mother has to listen to her son's first sexual experience with a woman. The performances are uniformly good for the film's intent, but Sarah Polley stands out as doing something beyond what's merely required. 8/10
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Fully logical in my view (spoiler warning--plot discussed)
eric9141118 January 2001
Warning: Spoilers
Death indeed takes many forms, and Thom Fitzgerald presents one of them here in a very dramatic way. William comes home ten years after his, but it was of course not an actual death, rather the termination of a life of obesity, ridicule and insecurity. Fletcher's rejection, and the ensuing small-town gossip, are what finally caused him to flee to the big city and cut off all communication with family and friends. He returns, reborn as a slim, handsome urbanite, who will not be satisfied until that rejection is reversed.

There is a lot of confusion among viewers of this film regarding the corpse that appears to be hanging in the garden. While at least three family members recognize it, it has never physically existed. William has survived the suicide attempt (rather than give in, he is still struggling when the scene ends), and is thus alive ten years later. What hangs from the tree is the broken spirit of a very troubled boy--and the entity that reveals the undercurrent of the plot.

Though in appearance a mature adult, William behaves at Rosemary's wedding as if he were trying to experience the childhood he missed. He is late for the ceremony, is dancing with his grandmother in her attic room while he is supposed to be with the rest of the wedding party, and hides under a table during the reception so he can throw flower petals onto the grass for guests to slip on. The pleasures of youth are abruptly halted when he must take care of his drunken father and then help organize a search for his missing mother. Compounding the difficulties are visions of himself as a young boy, using food to assuage hurt feelings, and of course the hanging `corpse.'

Later, as both of them envision the corpse, Rosemary reveals to William that she opted to hold her wedding in the garden so as to remember her brother as he `left,' rather than as he `came back.' Although she doesn't want to let go of the overweight, `Sweet William,' the adult will have no part of it and sees his chance to put it all to rest when Fletcher comes on to him down on the dock, the site of an earlier affectionate encounter. After confirming that he holds great attraction over his brother-in-law, William fakes an asthma attack (he has no problem running up the hill), and goes to bury the corpse. Having given up on reliving the past in a more pleasant way, he opts for putting it to rest so he can start anew.

Whiskey Mac, like Rosemary, wishes to hold on to the boy he knew ten years ago. It is revealed that he, too, has sensed the corpse when William tells him he has buried it. Devastated, the father tries to exhume it, but the son will not permit him. Of course no physical remains would appear, as none exist, but William doesn't want his father going through the motions of digging up what should be left in place. As George adamantly stated to Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the boy is `dead' and there is no use bringing him up again.
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the Garden of mismatched souls
Yngvar Myrvold15 October 2002
Sweet William, Rosemary, Violet, Basil and the rest. Named after flowers and herbs, people growing together in your typical family garden of mismatched souls. Little William, trying to be something that sets him apart from the rest, something nobody can touch or change. He grows up to be a gay and obese teenager. Lusting after his closest friend. Not the easiest of lives. We meet Willy 10 years later, returning home to celebrate his sister Rosemary's wedding. He is now a slim, attractive young man. But what has happened during those ten years? And who is the little boy running around the house?

Every time I watch this small masterpiece, new layers of meaning turn up. The plot structure gives away some undiscovered truths, together with dialogue pointers I didn't notice before. That, to me, is a film worth seeing! When we showed this at our local film society, it got a great reception, one of the best we ever had for a film.

The Hanging garden is short, bittersweet and - sadly - true to life. You'll find something in this garden for you, whoever you may be!
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One of the best films I have ever seen.
chapin-27 October 1999
A lovely, intelligent film that challenges the viewer's assumptions about reality, while celebrating the power of memory and redemption. I have rarely been so moved by the beauty of a film, visually and verbally. The performances are real, the writing superb. It also boasts one of the most hilarious weddings in cinema history.
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Holds up well
I recently saw this again having first seen it in the theater on its release and been spellbound by it.

Thom Fitzgerald is both the writer and director of an exploration into a family's dysfunction and disintegration amid their getting together for the wedding of the daughter.

The film shows the family in both the present and the past and centres around the newly returned son, Sweet William, the father, Whiskey Mac and his wife, Iris, and their relationship to their three children. The father is a nursery man/gardener and the segments of the movie are titled with the names of flowers. As are the children of the family.

In the past, Sweet William, an unhappy overweight boy is conflicted by his latent homosexuality. He develops a relationship with his friend Fletcher. When they are caught making love, the family completely falls apart.

The message of the film revolves around the theme of family secrets and how attempts to bury or ignore them serves only as a temporary cover-up. They will out.

Peter MacMeill, Kerry Fox, Chris Leavins, Troy Veinoitte, Seana McKenna and Sarah Polley give able, believable performances.

Again, it is one of those under-appreciated Canadian gems that have not been brought to a wider audience. And deserve to be.

And it has one of the most surprising, uplifting endings!

8 out of 10. Bravos to all involved.
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A film to ponder on
Gordon-1124 June 2008
This film is about a man coming back to his dysfunctional home after he left suddenly 10 years ago.

Right from the beginning, the family is already shown to be dysfunctional and unhappy. The initial wedding scene is unromantic, as it is clear that Rosemary did not want to marry. The grandmother has troubling dementia symptoms, and the father is alcoholic. It exposes a lot of sad and turbulent things that can happen: father's alcoholism, battered mother unable to stand up for herself, parents not being able to accept the son's sexuality, the haunting process of dementia and the destructive power of unresolved grief.

A powerful scene is when William challenges his mother why she has not left her husband. "How will I pay my bills" she says. It's a sad fact, but it is happening to a lot of people right now.

The longer I stayed watching "The Hanging Garden", the more fascinating it became. "The Hanging Garden" has an engaging and complicated plot which is open to interpretation. The ending is unexpected and powerful. It is a film to ponder on, not a film for a popcorn night.
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Flowers and herbs in the garden
jotix10018 July 2005
Warning: Spoilers
We saw the film in its original release. Not having seen it since then, we decided to take another view the other night, as it was a haunting piece of film-making. Thom Fitzgerald directs his own material about a family's disintegration amid an internal crisis.

The film shows a family in three different epochs of their lives. The father, Whiskey Mac and his wife, Iris, are seen in their suburban home where they are raising two children. The segments are divided into chapters and all take their names from flowers and herbs.

The main conflict in the film is within Sweet William, who as a teen ager is haunted by his latent homosexuality. The object of his interest is Fletcher, the school friend who isn't at all repulsed by William's advances, which are obvious. When they are caught in the act by the zealous grandmother, the family goes to pieces. Sweet William, in shame, hangs himself from a tree in the garden. This, we realize is only a symbolic way to show that like his own mother, Iris, both have fled the home in search of a more normal life. While Sweet Williams returns, completely transformed into a slender man, the mother is never heard of.

The message of the film seems to be how a family secret becomes the breaking point and its demise. Whiskey Mac sees the hanging figure of his teen aged son right in the middle of the garden. It's a painful reminder that he has lost him. Rosemary ends up marrying Fletcher, who seems to be game for a sexual encounter with the present William.

Mr. Fitzgerald has guided his excellent casts into giving performances that are true to life. Peter MacMeill, Kerry Fox, Chris Leavins, Troy Veinoitte, Seana McKenna, Sarah Polley, and the rest, show an understanding for the material.

While this is a somewhat difficult film to sit through, Mr. Fitzgerald film deserves to be seen.
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harry-7611 July 2000
So you thought your family was strange. Just take a look at Sweet William's clan, and give thanks after all for your brood. A young, well adjusted man returns home after an absence of several years to find old memories returning to haunt him. As the film weaves in and out of time zones, we experience a full portrait of the ultimate dysfunctional family. Are folks really like this, or is it just something in the Nova Scotian water? Nary a dull moment in this stimulating, often thought provoking expose. If you're game, take a deep breath and enter the world of "The Hanging Garden."
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Dysfunction junction
George Parker3 June 2004
"The Hanging Garden" is a slice-of-dysfunctional-life dramady with a coming-of-age flashback which takes you into the tangled web of peculiar family matters and relationships of a Nova Scotia family who live in shadow of a drunkenly abusive patriarch. The quirk infested family includes a gay asthmatic son, a foul mouthed daughter, a wishy-washy mother, a senile old granny, the abusive gardener father, and a kid. The film centers on the grossly overweight son who hangs himself from a tree and remains there as a sort of macabre metaphor for familial dysfunction while living on as a skinny adult and achieving some semblance of normalcy. In spite its obvious weirdness, this earthy flick manages to ground itself with a sense of reality while showing the constant struggle to function in spite of the characters' fractured coping skills. Not for everyone, this fist outing for writer/director Thom Fitzgerald is, IMHO, better than his more recent film "The Event". Fodder for those into quirky flicks about dysfunctional families. (B)
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Hanging Garden is a small, intensely felt film abo...
bgilch7 August 1998
Hanging Garden is a small, intensely felt film about a family in tatters and a son whose own problems are eclipsed until he does something he can't take back. Given the film's major conceit is a breach in family fabric that can't be woven back in, magic realism is an applicable term--but only so if shot through the caustic self-wounding humour of the Maritimes, where I lived for six years. If this seems dour, then consider the take-off marriage sequence that opens the film: drunkeness, homoeroticism, Celtic music madness and four-dozen f-words. This film is a gorgeous if painful tribute to growing up in a remove that already seems past its age, in an ocean playground whose garden has gone to seed. This film was ranked, and fairly, as the best Canadian film of 1997 by the Jay Stone of the Globe & Mail (Canada's national newspaper), and if that makes Americans laugh, then consider this is a ranking ahead of Sweet Hereafter, which only made it to the Best Director Oscar Nomination and Cannes Recognition for Atom Egoyan and was also Roger Ebert's #2 film of the year. Adulations all around are deserving for this home-grown production. The film only suffers from inexperience with some actors and having to come up with a conclusion for a tale that can't logically have one. And the parents are excellent in it too, especially the mum. At the singular, crucial sequence of the film all the elements of the film - colour, symbolism, lamentation and ladyslipperknots - fuse in breathtaking splendor, and I mean so in the inhaled gasp that graces the east coast 'yes '. It still stuns me in memoriam. Four Stars * * * *
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how wonderful!
troyfan13 April 2005
I just caught this movie on cable and loved it immediately. Troy Veinotte did a fabulous job, he broke my heart in that role. I wish he'd do more work, or at least show up here and there. I can't seem to locate any interviews he's done, and Hanging Garden seems to be his only role to date.

We want more Troy! I think that boy is just flat out adorable.

The entire movie is now one of my all time favorites. I'll be watching this at least once every six months or so.

I understand that it was a very difficult role for Troy to tackle, but I'm beyond appreciative of the work he did there. Someone needs to nudge him to do more projects.
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Powerful but not perfect
preppy-314 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Sweet William (Chris Leavins) returns to his family's house after being gone for 10 years. He came at the request of his sister (Kerry Fox) who is getting married. He left home because he was gay and couldn't deal with his family's HEAVY dysfunction. While back home he starts to flashback to his childhood...and begins to realize some unpleasant things about himself and his family.

This is basically yet another movie about a dysfunctional family...but this is a very good one. It's well-done (on next to no budget) and has some beautiful (if obvious) symbolism using flowers and nature. The story also took some unexpected turns I didn't see coming. Also the gay themes are handled very well and explicitly--that may bother some people. The acting is superb all the way through--Leavins and Fox are just incredible. And it DOES have a happy ending which I didn't really believe for one second--but it still works.

My only complaints--there's virtual non-stop swearing through the movie, and can we have just ONE movie about a dysfunctional family that DOESN'T have incest? Also look for a young Sarah Polley in a small role. I give it an 8.
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A surreal fabric of past and present
Milpool11 November 1999
The Hanging garden is one of those fine metaphors about familial existence, self explanation, and coping with a certain kind of sexuality in a community which will have none of it. It's central character, a man who returns home after years away, seems out of place in such a crude and rugged environment as the East Coast. He must, in a certain kind of mindset, face what he was, and try to bury that past for good. His struggle, one of growing to realize what has happened and how he has changed, leads him on a bizarre odyssey of acceptance and growth. The rest of his family may seem somewhat rude and unkempt, but keep in mind that people are pretty much this way in the Martimes at any right. A fine film, especially by Canadian standards.
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How did I miss this?
miler-525 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
As a gay Canadian, I am embarrassed to confess that I had not heard of "The Hanging Garden" until it was broadcast by CBC (with all the potty words). Is it Babylon with the exile of the Jews i.e. a second Garden of Eden or the suicide of a troubled youth? In any event, it follows the dynamics of a family under stress - a wedding and everything that is raised when family members congregate after a long separation.

I salute the performance of Troy Veinotte who, like a meteorite, lights up the screen as the young Sweet William and disappears from view much as the young actors of "Who Has Seen the Wind" The most complex character is Fletcher, brilliantly played by Joel S. Keller. How can he marry Sweet William's sister after his youthful flirtations with Sweet William?
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Don't miss it!
paula-604 January 2001
This is a wonderfully affecting movie I stumbled on by accident. I found the story deeply touching and beautifully told. Not a false step in this movie, the music is perfect. The pain of the hero is rendered so precisely that I found it overwhelming, the hanging scene haunts me still.
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Great as long as you can follow it
Raleon10 September 2002
I didn't really like the look of the film because it was bright and hard on the eyes, but the story line was so perfect. The symbolism of his 'death' and the developing of the story really made this movie worthy to be a Canadian classic. I thought the acting was great from everyone on it. The father also made me uncomfortable most of the time but that was probably the point.
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Great filmmaking
BratBoy-216 June 1999
This fantastic, unassuming Canadian film is one of the best I have seen in a long time. The story is wonderfully realized, the performances are great, and everything feels very real.
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A wonderful little movie
causeimreal4 September 2003
I first discovered "the hanging garden" on Sundance, and I felt in love from the first viewing. This movie is wonderful. It deals with real issues in a very simplistic way. The cast was wonderful, and I really enjoyed the guy who played sweet William. I would recomend it to anyone, but i will say this: I find it to be one that you watch alone so you can get your own thoughts and ideas about it.
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Thom Fitzgerald is exceptional
Barry-4425 September 2002
The Hanging Garden is my favorite all-time movie. The storyline is perfect and the camera shots would have pleased Alfred Hitchcock. Thom Fitzgerald, its stunning director, ties everything together. I have watched this movie several times -- each time seeing much more.
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Confusing and Compelling.
Python Hyena15 September 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The Hanging Garden (1997): Dir: Thom Fitzgerald / Cast: Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Sarah Polley, Peter McNeill, Joel Keller: Intriguing yet confusing Canadian drama about a haunted family history. The garden itself is the one thing its owner cherished while mistreating his overweight son who hung himself there. The confusing aspect is that the body still hangs there yet the victim appears at his sister's wedding now thin and apparently also gay. The body is suppose to be an illusion yet everyone can see it, so it is left unsolved. His sister is marrying his former boyfriend and in a drunken state preparing. It is a film about affliction with sexual content pushed too far and an ending left unresolved. Director Thom Fitzgerald handles the timeline effectively and is backed with beautiful photography. The screenplay is inventive yet somewhat muddled but it holds together thanks to effective casting. Great performances by Chris Leavins, Kerry Fox, Sarah Polley, and Peter McNeill playing characters in and out within this broken family that somehow fail to find common ground to heal the wounds. It regards a father whose love is reserved for the artificial while his son will carry on with the emotional wounds. The rest of the family are just as messed up in priorities and sense of love. Well made film where the garden becomes a graveyard to family tragedy. Score: 8 / 10
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Overdone, overblown pastiche of dysfunctional family life
pogostiks31 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I think what I disliked the most about this film was simply the fact that I didn't like ANYBODY in it...not really. The father is a bully and a drunk. The mother is ineffectual, and doesn't even stand up for her children when they are being badly treated or even hit by her husband.she spends her time pursing her lips or waving her arms in frustration. The sister is vulgar as hell and is so completely dislikable in her opening wedding preparations scenes that it is difficult to warm to her later, although she ALMOST managed to break through my reserve for her in a few later scenes, mainly when she is being loving and protective of her older brother. The grandmother seems to be played on two notes only - sweetly senile or bossily mean, convulsed with religious intolerance. The youngest sister/daughter is just a rude, uncontrollable brat. And "Sweet William" is ...well, so sweet that he seems to more or less forgive everyone and never get really mad at any of what is going on around him. The only person in the entire film that I could sort of warm to was Fletcher - who is luckily not a part of this family and actually seems human and decent, if a bit selfish.

Now, I have seen dysfunctional families before, on and off screen - but here there is no indication that anyone is capable of simply being "normal" for even two minutes. Except for William, every one of them is murderously mean, nasty, muck-mouthed, intense and twitchy in all situations. ALL THE TIME! In the end, they come across as cardboard cut-outs rather than real people, every one of them (except William and Fletcher) overacting like crazy.

There were a few moments in the film that were touching and/or calm, but they were few and far between. In real life I would try and get away from these people as fast as I could. In other words, watching this film is an exercise in masochism. Thanks, but no thanks.

Ten times better -if you are into Canadian film - is C.R.A.Z.Y... a film with real people, real performances, humour and other emotions besides the "dramatic" ones... and a much surer director's hand. It will make up for the ennui and gruesomeness of The Hanging Garden.
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A film difficult to appreciate.
burneyfan9 September 2000
The main obstacle in the way of my enjoying this film is the disconcerting elements of surrealism and irrationality inserted into a film that is in every other way naturalistic. I must say I had some difficulty coming to terms with this aspect of the film which at first glance made no sense at all. I was irritated by it. Taken at face value this aspect of the film was ludicrous. It goes like this:

We have a grotesquely obese teenager who has a homosexual encounter. He is caught in the act by his grandmother and, as a result, is taken by his mother to see a young woman who's forte is sexual initiation. Either this, his previous experience or his obesity, depresses him so much that he commits suicide. And we know he succeeds because all the flowers in the garden die with him. But, and this is where the madness and contradictions start, he comes back from the dead ten years later metamorphosed into a handsome, slim young man! And he finds his doppelganger still hanging from the tree in the garden!

Now a doppelganger is a figment of someone's imagination, a wraith that doesn't really exist; and if it had remained as such, say a symbolic representation of his earlier life, I would have had little difficulty in going along with it. But no. He touches it and his dad hugs it and he then buries it and his dad tries to dig it up. Well, you can't bury a doppelganger, so it must be a real body, a body that's been hanging from a tree for ten years without showing any signs of decomposition. And if it is a real dead body and it's his real dead body, how come he's still alive?

Now if you can accept all this as not being real behaviour but as some elaborate metaphor for his wish to be free of his past and his dad's wish to cling onto it, then you might just enjoy the film. It has a lot of good things going for it.
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This movie is haunting and sad but also thoughtful and sometimes hopeful.
mallen848627 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
What is up with this film? So he is hanging in the garden, but is he dead or what? He tried to kill himself, because of being gay or dysfunctional, which one? Or did his dysfunction die when he left? Yikes I am so haunted by this movie and the performance of the young actor, that played him as a teen, was remarkable. I have not seen many movies from Canada and this was really good albeit confusing to me!! Did that make sense? Part of the movie seemed cut-up--I saw it on Cinemax but I guess they could have shown an edited version.It was weird when Fletcher married the sister, is that because he could not have Willie? And the little girl was the daughter of Willie and the prostitute? Wow, can you imagine that happening to a kid, he didn't want to go to her, in the first place. The grandmother's portrayal was really interesting. Was she really crazy or just like that because of the heavy duty dysfunction, in the house, for all those years?
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Saved by the kids
Jon Reeves (jreeves)28 July 1998
Sadly, even the adult we're supposed to like (William) isn't too likeable, but fortunately the kids are. Well acted (again, especially by the teens) and affecting, though the family doesn't seem as screwed up as the one in Buffalo '66. Those looking for a straightforward script that resolves everything logically will be disappointed.
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