Previously published on filmink.com.au
Matthew McConaughey plays Arthur, an American professor who books a one-way ticket to Japan in order to end his life at the suicide hotspot, Aokigahara Forest. As he prepares his final moments in the woodland, he’s interrupted by the distressed and bloodied form of Takumi Nakamura (Ken Watanbe), a businessman who appears to have changed his mind about his own suicide. Begrudgingly deciding to help the man, Arthur tries to find his way out of the forest, becoming lost in the process himself.
Rather than a wilderness picture that sees two suicidal men rediscovering a purpose in life, Sea Of Trees becomes a cinematic join-the-dots puzzle where, through flashbacks, we learn the reasons why Arthur has decided to call it a day. Back in America, Arthur was in a loveless marriage with his alcoholic wife, Joan (Naomi Watts), who resents him for giving up on his dreams. When a tumour is found in her brain, the two try to rebuild their relationship before it’s too late. You may think that you know where this is going, but nothing can prepare you for the misfire that is the final act of Sea Of Trees.
Beautifully shot and poetic at the beginning, with an emotional performance by McConaughey, Sea Of Trees trades it all in for a twist that is so risible that the film could be mistaken for a parody of Nicholas Sparks’ melodramas. In a final act of narrative gymnastics, it also manages to take away any agency from the characters of Joan and Takumi to ensure that we are under no illusion that everything is about Arthur and how it affects him. Sea Of Trees could have been a reflection of how grief can claw its way through a person, but instead is a baffling exercise in navel gazing.