The Odd Life of Timothy Green (2012; dir. Timothy Hedges) is a cruel fantasy for adults. It doesn’t mean to be. It means to be gently and comically warmhearted. Its premise involves a husband and wife who are told by their doctor that they are infertile and have no hope of biologically producing a child. Later that evening, in a last gasp of deluded hope, they drink wine and jot down on bits of paper the traits they want their child to have: great at soccer, talented musician, kind, and so on. They put the bits of paper in a small box and bury it in their garden—they’re burying their dream of parenthood. A storm hits, lots of thunder and lightning and rain (the town where the film is set is suffering a severe drought), and the couple suddenly discovers in their house the slight form of a boy of around ten years old. He’s naked, and green leaves are growing out of his legs. He says his name is Timothy Green. The couple somehow realizes that he came out of the ground in the very spot where they buried the box. Without much delay, they adopt him and start inventing stories about how they got him and about his many talents.
I won’t divulge more of the plot, but an attentive filmgoer can predict how things will go. The cruelty here involves young couples who cannot reproduce. Burying a box in the garden doesn’t typically solve that problem. This fanciful treatment of a painful situation is sour. In the course of caring for Timothy, his adoptive parents learn how unprepared for parenthood they really are. There’s a lot for them to learn, and a lot of attitudes to change. Does this mean they really don’t deserve to be parents? There’s a good bit of attitude adjusting for this film’s audience too. Is this a comedy, a romantic adult fairy tale, a supernatural yarn, an eco-tale, a bogus New Age yawp? Do we feel sorry for the parents as they fall victim to error? Do we feel sorry for these parents or for Timothy as we realize what is about to happen to him? And have the parents earned what comes to them in the final scene? You can’t separate the real from the fanciful in this film. Where does the real world stop and the invented one begin? It seems to me that fantasizing in this particular way about infertility should be off limits. Adoption as an option for the parents doesn’t come up until the end.
Life is not so easy. It can be painful, not only for the parents who can’t conceive, but also for the parents who produce their own children and raise them and watch them grow and then see them leave the household. It’s wrong to portray it as otherwise. This film is an allegory, I suppose, about parenting, but it left me feeling cheated, unsettled, and unhappy.