Do lies undermine lives—or does the discovery of the truth bring ruination? In The Daughter, an Australian adaptation of Henrik Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, Christian (Paul Schneider) returns home after several years abroad for his father Henry’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding to the much younger Anna (Anna Torv). The estrangement between father and son has tension enough, but when Christian decides to spend his time with old friend Oliver (Ewen Leslie), Oliver’s wife Charlotte (Miranda Otto), and daughter Hedvig (Odessa Young) the distance between Christian and Henry seems to widen even more. As Christian learns more about Charlotte, he uncovers a secret that could tear apart Oliver’s family—and his own.
There is much going on in the background that impacts the main plot of the film. Henry is the owner of a lumber mill which is an important employer in this logging town. But he has just announced that the mill will be closing (costing Oliver his job). As Henry plans for an elaborate wedding, most of the people around him are scrambling to find a future. As Christian tries to bridge these two worlds his animosity towards his father becomes obvious.
There are also wounded animals in the film, cared for by Oliver’s father Walter (Sam Neill). The most to notable is a duck wounded by Henry early in the film. As the film progresses many of the characters will be emotionally wounded, all tracing back to Henry’s actions years before, but only because of Christian’s action as he uncovers the secrets and lies from the past.
The truth has been buried for years. Are these people happier or better off because Christian brings them the truth he has discovered? It is not unimportant that he is motivated by his malice towards his father. In this, the pain that is brought into people’s lives rests with him, even though Henry is culpable for the origin of the problems.
The difference between the two is that Henry acts out of indifference. Just as when he shoots the duck, he really doesn’t pay attention to what harm he may cause. With the duck, he just turns it over to Walter. With the past, he arranges things to be hidden away. As the mill closes down, his wedding seems to be a bit ostentatious for a community in turmoil. But Christian acts out of spite. He knows the damage he is doing, but plows ahead to create emotional chaos. Even when asked by some involved to spare the innocent, he cannot stop himself from revealing anything that will spoil lives.
What I found disappointing in the film is the lack of any kind of redemption. The past is not redeemed. None of the people involved find any redemption. Christian does not find any satisfaction for the sins of his father—he only adds more people to the list of those who can trace their pain to Henry. These are wounds that may never heal. Then again, sometimes even a wounded duck may learn to fly again.
Photos by Mark Rogers, courtesy of Kino Lorber