The Wild Pear Tree (2018)
Written by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Ebru Ceylan, & Akın Aksu
Directed by Nuri Bilge Ceylan
The word “epic” is often associated with films & stories that span the globe and put the character up against a cosmic conflict. However, I argue that writer-director Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is an epic, but one about humanity and specifically finding meaning in one’s life. The film is just over three hours long, and it does feel lengthy while watching it. But what happens on screen is not some dour contemplative proceeding, but a genuinely funny while emotionally charged experience. The cinematography is glorious, the director knowing how to frame mundane details with profundity.
Sinan has just graduated from university with plans to become a teacher like his father. This is a stepping stone to help pay the bills while he seeks his real career as a published writer. His book, The Wild Pear Tree, is self-described as a “quirky auto-fiction meta novel,” which is met with looks of incredulity by the established people he presents it to. When he returns to his hometown Çan, it hits quickly that Sinan could succumb to what he perceives as the dullness of ordinary life.
It doesn’t help that his father, an elementary school teacher, is becoming known in the town as a notorious gambler, owing money to bookies that are getting agitated. Sinan’s father has lost the respect of his family, who regards him as a buffoon when he comes home from work. Sinan travels with his father on weekends to the family farm, a place occupied only by a grandfather who sees his son as foolish for believing the land can be revived and life can be made there.
During the week, Sinan wanders around Çan and the neighboring big city of Çanakkale feeling his youthful optimism slowly wearing into a cynical arrogance against the world. On one trip, he runs into an old school crush Hatice who is engaged to an older man, remarking that she wouldn’t marry “a child” in reference to someone her age. Their short rendezvous ends in a rough moment of intimacy where Hatice has the upper-hand. On another day, he sits down before the mayor of Çan to ask for funding to publish his book, trying to spin the text as culturally relevant to the region. Yet another day finds Sinan engaged in conversation with two young local imams about the place of religion in a world where people are seeking to create personal meaning.
The crux of the film is a chance encounter Sinan has with Süleyman, a writer in Çanakkale, when they run into each other at a bookstore. Süleyman decides to humor the young Sinan’s inquiries, but it quickly becomes clear that the young man is becoming insulting and presumptive. Süleyman is walking home, still followed by Sinan, who has now reached the point of casually referring to the author as a sellout for taking a pragmatic rather than romantic view of writing literature. Süleyman finally snaps and tells Sinan what he needs to hear, but it’s ignored by the young man who believes he knows better because he has “integrity.” This begins a resentment against his father that drives Sinan to strike at things he holds most dearly to hurt his parent.
Dreams are an essential piece of The Wild Pear Tree, revealing thematic ideas. The images are powerful on their own, but paired with the story resonate with a more profound essence. A camera slowly tilting down to reveal an infant in his basket, hanging from a tree while ants swarm its face. A statue of the Trojan Horse becomes a hiding place in a dream as Sinan cowers from an unseen pursuer. The final act of the film is framed in thick fog that obscures the landscape and implies a floating dreamlike state.
The Wild Pear is a powerfully cinematic experience, a story of romanticism seen through the eyes of a filmmaker who has learned to temper those passions. Empathy is the element Sinan lacks in his journey to become a writer. He believes his ruminations are enough but fails to see that understanding another soul is what leads to true inspiration. This is a long journey, one that meanders often, but it is one that will linger with the viewer for a long time after.