Noble Fir also operates a lot like the film’s protagonist, keeping its emotions and metaphors humble in the sense that, if you want to understand the film, you need to pay attention to the subtleties and, in turn, uncover something about the human spirit.”
 

by Steve Pulaski

Joseph Arney’s Noble Fir concerns Henry Dean (Richard E. Wilson), a Christmas tree farmer resisting all urge to lash out or show any emotions towards a devastating event in his life we won’t come to know until later, despite not even needing to know it all. We can tell by the way Henry moves, talks, and operates on a daily basis that he doesn’t feel good. He moves with a functionalist’s mindset of doing what he has to do and making sure what needs to get done gets done. He works alongside his two grandchildren, harvesting the slew of trees he’s responsible for, and fertilizing them responsibly, occasionally allowing some of his bottled-up anger and harsh words to grace the blameless grandchildren.

Henry needs some sort of help, be it therapy or a long, intimate discussion with his daughter or friend, but he won’t budge. He comes from the age-old generation where the idea of masculinity is holding any of your bitter emotions inside of you until they come through at an unforeseen time in the future. We all know men like this, and we have all seen how some of them handle rage. Noble Fir is a meditative examination of grief, not quite as somber or affecting as The Mudge Boy, by comparison, but just heart-wrenching enough that by the end of the film we just want Henry to find the help he desperately needs, even if it’s all up to him finding it himself.

Noble Fir
Directed by
Joseph Arney
Cast
Richard E. Wilson, Mandy Rose Nichols, Desiree Aceves
Release Date
2014
Steve’s Grade: B

Noble Fir contains little dialog. After a few words are exchanged between Henry, his daughter, and her two sons at the beginning of the film, there is no dialog for the next ten minutes. Arney’s camera often lingers over Henry’s shoulders as he attends to his crowded farm and performs physically-taxing odd jobs. This is his way of grieving; living day by day, getting by the old outlaw way. He could wallow away in his room, lounge in front of the TV, or cry in the shower, but doing any of that will not get this work done. Again, Henry embodies the idea of functionalism, refusing to be a rusted tooth in an ever-rotating gear.


Cinematographer Justin Holbrook beautifully captures the photography and gorgeous, natural beauty of the farmland with such a clear camera that you can almost breath the air the characters are breathing. The woodsy environment at hand greatly reminds me of David Gordon Green’s Joe, which was beautifully photographed by Green’s right-hand cinematographer Tim Orr. Meanwhile, Arney’s camera is often shaky and unsteady, enhancing the overarching mood of discomfort and restlessness. On occasion, Arney gets too close, obscuring Henry’s bust by focusing the camera too closely on his head, shoulder, or neck, disrupting the clarity of the film. This kind of shooting structure comes in handy, subtly alluding to ideas of personal space and how close we want to get to this man, if one really wants to dig that deeply, but can be burdensome in the regard that we feel ill-equipped to see the entire environment due to such a narrow directorial focus.

Wilson, on the other hand, is thoroughly remarkable, playing a character who is internalizing absolutely everything and communicating desperately little information to people and the ones he loves. A great scene of symbolism comes when Henry talks to the boys about the importance of maintaining the Christmas trees on his farm (the Noble Firs) and being mindful of their conditions. He talks about the importance of keeping them strong because while they may look fine on the outside they could be deeply hurting on the inside, and that’s the worst thing that could possibly happen.

Noble Fir also operates a lot like the film’s protagonist, keeping its emotions and metaphors humble in the sense that, if you want to understand the film, you need to pay attention to the subtleties and, in turn, uncover something about the human spirit. The film is an exercise in detailing, and articulating, man’s spirit and emotions and it’s consistently a solid articulation.