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Daughter, The (ATOM study guide)

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    The Daughter (2016) is a feature film written and directed by Simon Stone. The film is a contemporary reworking of The Wild Duck by Henrik Ibsen and draws on Stone's theatrical production of the play.

    Synopsis
    Christian Neilson (Paul Schneider) returns home for his father Henry’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding to his much younger housekeeper Anna (Anna Torv). It has been close to sixteen years since Christian last saw his father.

    During his stay, Christian reconnects with his childhood friend Oliver Finch (Ewen Leslie). Oliver works at the Neilson timber mill but now that the mill is closing, he must find another source of employment.

    Oliver lives with his wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), teenage daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) and father Walter (Sam Neill). Their existence is a happy one. Charlotte teaches at the local high school where Hedvig is a student. Walter cares for injured wildlife in a sanctuary that he has built on the Finch property. The most recent arrival is a wild duck that Henry shot and wounded.

    While Henry and Anna plan an expensive wedding, the other residents of the town face the realities of unemployment. Hedvig’s memorial to her former classmates reveals the impact of the mill’s closure on the small community. She is however unprepared for the loss of Adam (Wilson Moore), her closest friend, when his family pack up and leave.

    Christian’s unresolved resentment about the death of his mother years earlier intensifies on the eve of his father’s wedding. His realisation that Charlotte was the other woman in Henry’s life at the time of his mother’s suicide, and his anger about his own wife’s infidelity, leave him feeling angry and betrayed. Christian is adamant that Oliver should know the truth about Charlotte’s past.

    The revelation of Charlotte’s affair with Henry and that Hedvig is actually Henry’s daughter proves devastating. Christian’s attempt to right the wrongs of the past shatters the family’s happiness. Oliver is inconsolable. He moves into a room at the local motel and refuses to see anyone other than Walter. Hedvig is confused about her father’s actions and her mother’s silence until Christian also tells her the truth.

    Having failed to convince Oliver to come home and hurt by his rejection, Hedvig is distressed. She takes Walter’s shotgun and retreats to the abandoned factory where she attempts to take her own life. Walter raises the alarm and Hedvig is rushed to hospital, her life hanging in the balance.

    Writer/director's statement
    The Daughter is a memory film without flashbacks. It takes place in a single fateful week, when the return of a man to his hometown triggers a series of revelations that had been dormant for years. The memories that resurface become the heartbeat of the piece, and time starts to implode for the characters as they try to make sense of what their past means. In the middle of this complex matrix of self-recrimination is a teenage girl just starting to learn what life might mean; full of all the joys and insecurities of self-discovery, she is truly vulnerable to the mess that the adults around her are making. It’s a film about people trying to be good, living and failing, falling prey to weakness, fighting to survive. It’s about how the events of the past are inescapable and how the truth isn’t for a single person to decide, it’s for a community to share in all of its complications. And if we can’t protect the weakest among us, what’s it all been for?
    – Simon Stone

    Curriculum links
    The Daughter is suitable viewing for students in Years 10–12. It can be used as a resource in English, Literature and Media Arts.

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