When your child is a psychopath
If that last one strikes you as a little incongruous, you’re not alone. Early reviews of the film call Trevor’s story “slightly out of place next to the others” and “an outlier,” whose “feints at uplift feel forced and dubious.” Indeed, Trevor’s situation is a result of a conscious choice, while the others are not. Many of the other stories are heartwarming, while Trevor’s is harrowing, and involves a child who caused immense pain for other families besides his own. But the inclusion of Trevor Reese also functions as a reminder that a tendency toward violent behavior can be hereditary and innate, too. In the documentary, Trevor’s parents recall that in the aftermath of the murder, Trevor said “I don’t know why I did this.” A central message of Far From the Tree is that some differences just occur in nature randomly, and good parents learn not to expend their energy on blaming themselves for their child’s differences. Which is an easy message to swallow when the child in question has a learning disability or a condition that affects their appearance or mobility. Far From the Tree, however, asks the viewer to extend this understanding to kids with violent tendencies.
Several of the stories presented in the movie involve parents initially feeling guilty or personally responsible for causing their children’s conditions. Solomon talks about coming out to his mother and, as justification, mentioning a few family friends who were openly gay. She replied, according to Solomon, “If I had thought inviting them into our house would make you think that was an acceptable way of life, they would never have crossed the threshold.” Similarly, the mother of Jack, the autistic teenager, remembers wondering in Jack’s earlier, more troubled childhood years if she hadn’t been healthy enough during her pregnancy, if she shouldn’t have been taking certain medications. “I blamed myself, for all of it. Like I caused it,” she says. Blamed, past tense. The film itself doesn’t place blame or responsibility on parents for any of their children’s conditions, but it nonetheless offers absolution, in the form of showing the incredible lengths these parents go to learn about, connect with, and best serve their sons and daughters. Solomon explains in voice-over that his father eventually accepted his homosexuality (after the death of Solomon’s mother); Solomon’s father is seen giving a toast at Solomon’s wedding.
By the time the film gets to Trevor’s family, the last of the five families to be introduced, viewers already know Far From the Tree’s general outlook on the extent to which parents should hold themselves responsible for their children’s differences. By the time Trevor’s mother tells the camera in anguish that she wondered after Trevor’s arrest whether she should have breastfed longer, or whether she let her son cry too long in his crib when he was learning to sleep through the night, we can intuit where the documentary itself stands on this: It will tacitly absolve this guilt-wracked mother, too. This time, though, there’s a Greek chorus of sorts asking the parental-responsibility question, in addition to the parents themselves. “We raise our kids better than that up here,” says one admonishing member of the Reeses’ community in TV news footage. Trevor’s dad says he’s learned not to talk about Trevor with anyone he’s just met; in the past, new acquaintances have reacted negatively to the revelation. “If that has happened in your family,” he says, people think “there must be something wrong with your family, your parenting.”