ITOL’s Cinematic Dads: Leave No Trace

For Father’s Day we asked some of our ITOL team to write about their favourite cinematic Dads. Here’s Bee Garner’s piece on Ben Foster’s Will, from the 2018 film “Leave No Trace”.

“Leave No Trace” is one of those films that remains too painful for me to watch. There’s only a handful of films that I know I’ll struggle to rewatch again, films like “The Grave of the Fireflies”, “Shoplifters” and “Nobody Knows” each one of these films have connected with me on such a personal level and what occurs on-screen eerily mirrors my own life experiences.

Released in 2018, Debra Granik‘s film “Leave No Trace” was one of the first films I watched after the sudden passing of my Step-Dad, the man who had raised me since I was eight years old. He was the one who nurtured and encouraged my passion for film. I hadn’t expected to see so many similarities in Ben Foster‘s Will and my Dad, and if my Dad had seen this film I think he would have emotionally identified with the character too.

Ben Foster in Leave No Trace (2018) © MAB Productions

“Will does what he can to help educate her, so she learns how to live in the wild. He is trying to maintain a strong image so she isn’t aware of his inner pain.”

Some may say that Will is a bad father because he has essentially taken his daughter Tom (Thomasin McKenzie) away from all civilization and his condition has meant she’s become his carer. However, Will does what he can to help educate her, so she learns how to live in the wild. He is trying to maintain a strong image so she isn’t aware of his inner pain, although throughout the course of the film, he slowly begins to fall apart. This film just goes to show how twisted and warped our society is, in terms of its treatment towards PTSD suffering veterans.

My own Dad was the type of person who could carve anything out of wood, he had such superb mechanical and engineering skills, and he knew how to live outdoors (we camped a lot when I was a child and would go on epic long hikes). I think he would have admired and even respected Will’s decision to live off the land and escape from civilization. Looking back on the events of this year, I know that in a lot of ways my Dad was preparing me for a tough time and long periods of isolation. This Father’s Day will be difficult, but for the first time in a long time, I feel at peace with everything that has occured.

Ben Foster and Thomasin McKenzie in Leave No Trace (2018) © MAB Productions

At the end of “Leave No Trace” Tom and Will depart ways. He knows that she wants to stay and reconnect with civilization, but it’s just not possible for him to adapt back into that world. It’s a very heartbreaking ending, but Tom gets to say goodbye to her father, and not everybody gets the same opportunity to do so. She understands that what is happening is for the best, “I know you would stay if you could” she says to him. These words have remained with me ever since, and I hold onto them dearly, because they echo my own thoughts so perfectly.

Written by Bianca 'Bee' Garner

Bee is a graduate in Film & Television Studies, with several years, experience writing and reviewing films for various outlets including VODZilla, Next Best Picture, Insession Film, Jumpcut Online, and Filmotomy. She founded In Their Own League as a way to promote female filmmakers and give a platform for underrepresented voices in film criticism. When she's not watching or writing about film, she enjoys meditating, reading, spending time in nature and baking. You can follow her on Twitter at @thefilmb

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