I have long been of the belief that secrets will eat you alive. They tend to fester like an infection in your very soul. The two main characters of writer-director Finn Taylor’s Avenue of the Giants have been keeping traumatic secrets for longer than they should.
Based on a true story, Avenue of the Giants starts out in Marin County, California, in 2004, with Herbert Heller (Stephen Lang) receiving some troubling news about his health. The senior citizen has been informed that he is not going to be much longer for this world. So, Herbert figures that now is the right time to tell his harrowing story to a documentary crew, even though he never told his family.
Heller sees a man in uniform, which makes him flashback to his childhood in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1941. We get more of these flashbacks as Herbert tells his story to Abby (Elsie Fisher). The young photographer, who is part of the crew, also suffers from physical and mental scars. Soon, she develops a kinship with the old man.
“…Herbert figures that now is the right time to tell his harrowing story to a documentary crew…”
We learn that young Herbert (Luke David Blumm) and his family went through hell on Earth in the infamous Nazi WWII concentration camps for Jews, such as Auschwitz. His father (Slavko Sobin), an engineer who is so full of life, hope, and magic tricks at the beginning, ends up heartbreakingly broken as the atrocities pile up. Herbert’s mother (Stella Stocker) is physically a shell of herself, but Herbert tries to pretend she’s still beautiful. We’ve all seen movies such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List about the Holocaust before. However, the horrors and indignities suffered by the victims here still hit like a gut punch, even though probably because they are not graphic like other movies on the subject have been.
You already know that Lang is a hell of an actor from his performances in the Avator and Don’t Breathe franchises. Here, he gets the opportunity to show a softer side, which works exceptionally well. Fisher plays a troubled teen to perfection and has a nice chemistry with Lang. The supporting cast adds to the realism and emotion of it all.
Avenue of the Giants uses the connection with Abby to bridge the anguish of Herbert’s past to the more contemporary problems of trauma that the current generation could relate to. This is most noticeable near the end as Taylor slowly reveals Abby’s issues. As I write this, Jews are once again sadly at the center of a racial conflict, with innocent Palestinians also tragically suffering. When will the human race figure out that all life is precious? Taylor’s film is yet another strong reminder of that essential message. Everyone should see this so as not to forget the lessons of the past and to heal from traumatic issues that any teen could experience.
There’s a lot of heavy stuff to deal with in Avenue of the Giants, but it still provides a majestic and hopeful feeling by the end. It feels as if one’s walking through the redwoods in Marin County that the title references — daunting but impressive.
"…everyone should see this so as not to forget the lessons of the past..."