The Willow Tree – Movie Review
The title of the movie and its essence may seem different. The difference we so deduce arises out of our convoluted perception of the world. Perceptions, you see, can really be contradictory. That is what the movie tries to understand.
Youssef was blinded by an accident when he was eight years old. Now 38 years later, he teaches literature at the university, has a loving wife, and a little daughter who just can’t get enough of him. On the face of it Youssef deals calmly with his disability but deep down he is angry with God. Now he has a tumor beneath his right eye, and his uncle has gotten him an appointment in Paris with a special clinic for eye surgery. Just before he leaves, Youssef writes a note to God and tucks it between the pages of a volume of the Mathnawi, the mystical masterpiece by the Persian Sufi poet Rumi. The note says:
“I’m the one you deprived of the beauties of the world and who never complained. Instead of light and brightness, I lived in darkness and gloom and I didn’t protest. I found happiness and peace in this small paradise. Are all these years of suffering not enough that you now want to cause me even more suffering? Will I come back from this trip to my loving family? Will this illness bring me to my knees? To whom should I complain about what you are doing to me? I beg of you to show me more compassion. Don’t take my life away.”
Youssef is thrilled when the doctors in France discover that his eyes are sensitive to the light and they decide to do cornea transplants on both eyes. The night before his bandages are to be removed, Youssef lifts them gently and realizes that he can see.
Most of the movies end here with saccharine filled happily-lived-everafter promises but this one starts to explore. How Youssef falls into the trappings of the materialistic world is the essence. Majid Majidi sums it up beautifully.
“A few years ago, I met a middle-aged blind man who had an amazing experience in his life, dealing with blindness and sight. As I was talking to him, I began to ask myself about the difference between perceptions of beauty and serenity in the real world and the world of the blind. After he talked more about his experience, I realized that when a man recovers his sight, there is an inevitable conflict between these perceptions. For Youssef, the blind man of my film, serenity comes from his little balcony, the sound of nature and the angelic voices and touches of his family. The beauty is in his mind and ugliness does not exist. He is like Adam in the garden of Paradise, both protected and powerful. I wanted to explore what would happen to his serenity and his sense of control if he were taken out of ‘Paradise.’
“When Youssef is exposed to the visual world, the beauty he encounters is compelling and frustratingly elusive. Ugliness and strangeness is everywhere. The aggressive presence of the world gradually silences the dialog he had with God and himself. I realized that when a man becomes deaf to his inner dialog and ignores the positive messages the world sends him, the only actions he could do would be selfish, violent, and destructive. When fate tests us, our life, if not built on firm foundations, often collapses. For Youssef the tests that life put on him reduced him to the powerlessness of a small creature of God. I still wonder what this child-man would do with the new life he is now begging for . . .”
To top it off, there is a surreal sufism exuding out. Infact, the last of couple of scenes where Youssef burns his writings (brilliant cinematography) and throws them into the pond, are a tribute to Rumi. The complete surrender which Rumi addressed is shown to be the only light in the world of blind. So true.