"It is the image in the mind that binds us to our lost treasures, but it is the loss that shapes the image."
Our lives begin with ache and agony as we leave the womb and are set down in an alien world. But at the same time, we are ushered into a great adventure which promises to yield innumerable benefits.
So the rhythm of life is established as a mix of loss and gain. We grow by losing and then counting the blessings that come from pain and suffering. It does not happen quickly. It a slow and drawn out process which changes us.
The loss of people we love is something we all have to deal with eventually. We know it will happen but we are still unprepared.
That is why a serious and meditative film like In the Family can provide a moral service to us by planting us in the midst of young gay Asian-American's grieving process. Here is a man who begins to mourn one loss only to face another equally devastating one. His journey through grief and into wholeness and reconciliation is a spiritual one worth examining and experiencing, thanks to Patrick Wang, the writer, director, and star of the film. The drama is set in Tennessee where conservative values hold sway.
Joey Williams (Patrick Wang) is a contractor who is living with Cody Hines (Trevor St. John), a schoolteacher whose wife died in childbirth. They both are daddies to Chip (Sebastian Brodziak), a precocious six-year-old. Although Cody is the biological father, his son is very close emotionally to Joey who feeds his interest in dragons.
When Cody is killed in a car accident, Joey is devastated. But his plans to raise Chip on his own are waylaid by Cody's sister Eileen (Kelly McAndrew) who shows him her brother's will which predates his relationship with Joey. It designates Eileen and her husband Dave (Peter Hermann) as Chip's legal guardians. Before Joey knows what is going on, Eileen has taken the boy and gotten a restraining order preventing him from seeing the boy.
Hit by two losses at once, Joey can barely function. As he grapples with grief, in his mind's eye he relives through flashbacks his romantic relationship with Cody, his first meeting with his family, and other elements of their life together in love.
Joey mourns the receding vistas of his life. Luckily there are three women friends who stand by him with their presence and gifts of food and encouragement. One of them refers him to her lawyer who tells Joey that he has no child custody case and to give up on the idea of trying to get Chip back.
In his loneliness and vulnerability, Joey feels a deep anger against Eileen and her husband for taking Chip away and not trusting him to raise the boy with love and responsibility. He cuts back on his work load and begins a project restoring old books for Paul Hawks (Brian Murray), a retired wealthy lawyer who, after hearing about Joey's case, volunteers to help him out.
Up until this fruitful turning point, director Patrick Wang has fashioned a deliberately slow movie filled with long takes, deep focus shots, environmental lighting. and no musical score. At times, this artsy approach makes it difficult for us to establish an emotional connections with the protagonist.
Despite these cinematic distractions, those who choose to stay with Joey through his long and lonely ordeal of mourning will be amply rewarded by the remarkable finale where Joey and Hawks arrange a private deposition interview attended by Eileen, her husband, and their lawyer. In his questions for Joey, their lawyer voices the racial and sexual discrimination that is evident in other characters' treatment of him.
But Joey can handle anything to be able to be a father to Chip. To prepare for the deposition, Hawks suggested that he do some inner work on answering three crucial questions:
• What's important to change?
• What don't you want to disturb?
• What are you ready to give up?
This discernment process serves him well. By his example, we see how setting priorities, being willing to make sacrifices, and deciding where we can let go and what we must hold strong for all are part of the changes accompanying loss and mourning. If we do the work, we can turn this time into a pathway of growth.
In the Family speaks volumes about what Judith Viorst means when she writes:
"To look at loss is to see how inextricably our losses are linked to growth. And to start to become aware of the ways in which our responses have shaped our lives can be the beginning of wisdom and hopeful change."
Special features on the DVD include several video essays.