Vivek Murthy: The Loneliness Epidemic

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Discussion Questions for Far From the Tree: A film based on the work of Andrew Solomon


Click here to download the discussion questions as a PDF

1. At the beginning of the film, Far from the Tree, Joe remarks, “What body you’re in has everything to do with your perspective of the world.” How does your body shape the way you see the world?

2. After the catastrophe of coming out to his parents, Andrew, the author of the book on which the film is based, set out to study how other families dealt with children who were very different from them. How did the family that raised you deal with difference? What differences were celebrated? What differences were (or would have been) disastrous? Did you ever feel like you were a catastrophe?

3. Emily fought for and embraced her son Jason—against doctors’ advice—when he was born with Down syndrome. Even still, Emily says, “It was letting go of a dream when I realized that Jason was gonna be who he is.” What were your dreams for the children in your life? What dreams have you had to let go of in order to love the people they actually are?

4. Jack’s parents spent years seeking treatment for their son’s Autism. Finally, they experienced breakthrough with a therapist when Jack began pointing to letters and spelling out words. His dad remembers thinking, “My God, he’s in there!” His mom marveled, “Oh, my gosh, you’re real?” What do you think they meant by these comments? What kind of a relationship do they imply between a body and a soul? How central is the ability to communicate to your notion of what it means to be human?

5. Andrew attributes the culture shift of the last forty years for transforming the idea of homosexuality as an illness to gayness as an identity. He reflects, “Having lived to see my supposed defect come to be celebrated, I wondered whether defectiveness itself might be all a matter of perspective.” What “defect” are you carrying? How does the community you’re in reinforce or rebut this label? What would be gained (or lost) if this defect was seen by the larger culture as something to be celebrated?

6. “Is there anybody out there like me?” Loini, a twenty-three year old with dwarfism, wonders. When have you asked a similar question? What limitations stopped you from finding out? What did you find when you went searching, as Loini does at the Little People of America conference?

7. Leah and Joe are two little people who are trying to conceive a baby. Whether or not the baby will be born with a disability is something that the doctors talk a lot about, Joe says, as if they see normality as the end goal. Is normality something you want for the children in your life? What do you see as the end goal of child-rearing? How does the end goal shape your values around conception or gestation?

8. Trevor committed a serious crime when he was sixteen; now he’s serving a life-long prison sentence. Even after wrestling with confusion, embarrassment, and blame, Trevor’s mom reflects,“You don’t get to choose to love them. You love them.” Do you think love for a child is a choice? Why or why not?

9. Jason calls him and his “family of friends” with Down syndrome the Three Musketeers. Jack calls his tribe of friends with Autism the Real Boys. Leah and Joe found a partner who loves their isms. Who are the people with whom your difference is not defining? What do (or could) you call yourselves?

10. Reversing the old Tolstoy line, Andrew ends the film by reflecting, “I think a lot of unhappiness is quite similar and that what’s remarkable is all of the different ways people find to be happy.” How is your family finding a way to be happy against the odds?

Bonus: After watching Far From the Tree, what part of the film resonated with you most? What insight will you carry with you?

Discussion Questions written by author, editor, and facilitator Erin S. Lane.
For more discussion questions and helpful resources, visit KateBowler.com.
Don’t miss Andrew Solomon on the Everything Happens podcast,
available wherever you listen to podcasts.