“Search for Identity” in Documentary “Far from the Tree”

All parenting turns on a crucial question: to what extent parents should accept their children for who they are, and to what extent they should help them become their best selves. Andrew Solomon, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (2012)

Andrew Solomon‘s bestselling book Far from the Tree has become Rachel Dretzin‘s well regarded documentary of the same name. Film Far from the Tree “examines the experiences of families in which parents and children are profoundly different from one another in a variety of ways” (IMDB).

First, some additional quotes from the book that represent its content:

This book’s conundrum is that most of the families described here have ended up grateful for experiences they would have done anything to avoid.

There is something ironic in prejudice against the disabled and their families, because their plight might befall anybody.

These parents have, by and large, chosen to love their children, and many of them have chosen to value their own lives, even though they carry what much of the world considers an intolerable burden. Children with horizontal identities alter your self painfully; they also illuminate it. They are receptacles for rage and joy–even for salvation. When we love them, we achieve above all else the rapture of privileging what exists over what we have merely imagined.

Key words: horizontal identities, as contrasted with vertical identities. As defined and explained in Solomon’s book:Because of the transmission of identity from one generation to the next, most children share at least some traits with their parents. These are vertical identities…Ethnicity, for example, is a vertical identity…Language is usually vertical…Religion is moderately vertical…Nationality is vertical, except for immigrants.” And, of course, there are many other examples.

“Often, however, someone has an inherent or acquired trait that is foreign to his or her parents and must therefore acquire identity from a peer group. This is a horizontal identity. Such horizontal identities may reflect recessive genes, random mutations, prenatal influences, or values and preferences that a child does not share with his progenitors.”

Documentary Far from the Tree showcases five different types of horizontal identities existing within specific families. Viewers see “intimate and heartening views of people with Down syndrome, autism, of dwarfs, and the family of an 18-year-old boy now imprisoned for life for the murder an 8-year-old boy. And of Andrew Solomon, gay in a family that could not at first accept him” (Dr. Lloyd I. Sederer, HuffPost).

Far from the Tree is available on DVD and at Amazon Prime. Watch the trailer below:

Psychiatrist Sederer concludes that the path to success for these families “is taken in incremental steps, with relentless and sustained effort, and with patience (except when unbending institutions demand they be impatient). We see how a family with a quite different child embarks on a journey that is undertaken with love and insists upon keeping hope alive.”

Daphne Howland, Village Voice: “It’s a painstaking inspection of parenthood, which is fraught even in less formidable circumstances…But it’s also a contemplation of what it means to be human and, ultimately, optimistic.”

Finally, the headline of reviewer Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: “This documentary about families will make you cry — for all the right reasons.”

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