Under the Tree

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
Under the Tree Movie Poster Image
Sex and violence in dark Icelandic dramedy.
  • NR
  • 2018
  • 89 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

No positive messages. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

No positive role models. 

Violence

(Warning: Some spoilers.) Two neighbors fight with a nail gun, box cutter, pitchfork, and a wrench -- both punched, kicked, shot, sliced, and cut open until falling down bleeding and dead. Man takes a chainsaw to a large tree, cutting it down; it falls over and onto a man who is sleeping in a tent, killing him. Woman steals her neighbor's dog and has him put to sleep; she gets him stuffed and places the dog's body on the neighbor's front stoop. Estranged married couple gets into a heated argument at their child's school; the father smashes a cell phone by throwing it on the ground. Reckless driving -- man in pursuit of his estranged wife on the highway. Family talks of the presumed suicide of their older son. 

Sex

A woman walks in on her husband on the verge of masturbating while watching a video on his computer of him having sex with his ex-girlfriend. Nudity -- female breasts. During a condo owners meeting, man complains at length about the loud sex his neighbors have, says he can hear them say things like, "finger up the ass." 

Language

Occasional profanity. "F--k" used twice. "Bulls--t," "dogs--t," "goddamn," "bitch," "hell," "ass." 

Consumerism

Father and daughter have a picnic in front of an Ikea parking lot. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Whiskey, wine drinking. Cigarette smoking. Vaping. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Under the Tree is a 2017 Icelandic dark comedy in which the squabbles between neighbors escalates into increasingly bizarre and violent behavior. A woman walks in on her husband on the verge of masturbating to a video of him having sex with an ex-girlfriend. Bare breasts are shown. (Warning: Spoilers.) In the movie's climactic scene, two neighbors fight with a nail gun, a box cutter, a wrench, and a pitchfork -- the two punch, kick, then slice and stab each other until they are bleeding, then fall over dead. A man takes a chainsaw to a tree until it falls over, accidentally landing on a tent in which a man is sleeping; the man is killed. A woman steals her neighbor's dog, has him put to sleep, then gets it stuffed at a taxidermist and puts the dog's body on the front doorway of the neighbor's house. Some profanity, including "f--k" used twice. Cigarette smoking, vaping. Wine and whiskey drinking. Also, one of the movie's stories concerns a married couple going through a very difficult separation that also involves a young child. 

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What's the story?

After getting caught by his wife watching a video of himself having sex with an ex-girlfriend, Atli has been kicked out of their house and his now-estranged wife, Agnes, wants nothing to do with him and is denying him custody of their child. He moves back in with his parents, Inga and Baldvin, who are in the midst of an escalating squabble with their next-door neighbors. These neighbors, Konrad and Eybjorg, have been asking Inga and Baldvin to trim down their tree since it casts a shadow over their back porch, interfering with Eybjorg's sunbathing. Inga, still unable to come to grips with her son's disappearance (presumed dead of suicide), chain-smokes and day-drinks wine and responds to Konrad's request with caustic words for both he and his new wife. Then, the tires on Baldvin's car are slashed. The flowers in Konrad and Eybjorg's back yard are ripped out of their pots. Inga's cat disappears. While no one knows who did it, both sides assume the other are guilty of these acts. Meanwhile, Atli is desperately trying to both save his marriage and see his daughter, and finds himself in the middle of this increasingly-savage war between the neighbors. 

Is it any good?

Under the Tree manages to be both a dark satire of petty neighborhood squabbles and a dark drama exploring how one tragedy can ripple out to create more tragedies. At the root of the two stories is an adult son (never seen) who has gone missing and is presumed dead from suicide. His younger brother Atli has sunk into a torpor that culminates in him getting caught by his wife watching himself have sex with an ex-girlfriend during, presumably, a happier time in his life. His mother, Inga, chain-smokes and drinks wine all day, venting her repressed despair on her neighbor Konrad and his second and much younger wife Eybjorg. While Atli is kicked out of the house and trying to find a way to see his young daughter and perhaps even save his marriage, Inga and her husband Baldvin gets into an increasingly violent and bizarre war with the neighbors. Hilarity doesn't ensue so much as shocked surprise at the great lengths these characters go to channel their problems.

It's the kind of quiet, gray, understated suburbia-gone-wrong story that gives the proverbial art house theater a reason to exist. Furthermore, setting the movie in suburban Reykjavik adds the kind of "all is not well in Paradise" irony that was once the province of 1950s American suburbia. Which seems fitting for the second decade of the 21st century: While it's a foregone conclusion that America isn't the "happy place" it was once believed to be, it makes more sense to satirize the tensions lurking underneath suburban bliss in Scandinavia, where the happiest people on earth are supposed to be living these days. Overall, Under the Tree is an excellent, unforgettable movie with some unexpected and unimaginably dark twists. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about dark movies. How did the movie use "dark humor" to tell the story? What are some other examples of dark comedies? 

  • According to Aristotle, comedy reflects humanity as lesser versions of who they are in real life, and tragedy reflects humanity as better versions of who they are in real life. That said, do you think this movie is a comedy, or drama, or a bit of both? 

  • How did the movie use exaggeration to take typical events from real life (bickering neighbors, divorce, etc.) and turn them into a story? 

Movie details

For kids who love dramas

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