How can we have children in a world facing mass extinction? What burden do we place on ourselves and on future generations when faced with solving an unparalleled ecological crisis? ASHGROVE boldly takes on these heady questions in a film that deftly intertwines the personal with the global in an intensely relatable way for anyone living through the ongoing global pandemic and slow destruction of Earth through climate change.
Jennifer Ashgrove (Amanda Brugel) is the chief scientist heading up a team investigating the ‘water pandemic’: a sudden pandemic that made all water toxic and ultimately fatal when consumed in enough quantities. After she blacks out at the wheel of her car, a doctor (Christine Horne) convinces her to take a break from her world-changing work and Jennifer and her husband Jason (Jonas Chernick) travel to her family farm—also called Ashgrove—for a relaxing weekend of hammocks and farmers’ markets. But Jennifer is soon troubled not only by her absence from her important work but by Jason’s increasingly suspicious behaviour.
“The intertwining of the personal and the global draws out the film’s heady themes around parenthood, natalism, and whether it’s right to bring a child into a world doomed by ecological disaster.”
A film about a global pandemic is undeniably timely but ASHGROVE wisely doesn’t place its water pandemic at the centre of the film. Instead this huge event lingers continually in the background, a frame to the interpersonal drama at the film’s heart, similar in some ways to the amnesia pandemic in Christos Nikou’s Green New Weird film, APPLES, or the oxygen pandemic that suddenly appears and suddenly ends in Ana Katz’s THE DOG THAT WOULDN’T BE QUIET. For an event that has killed 60 million people and left the rest of the world with five years to live, it initially feels as if the water pandemic has an odd weightlessness but as the film continues it becomes clear that, despite being in the background, the pandemic influences every character’s decisions in intensely meaningful ways. As we’ve learned over the past two years, such massive events do slip into the background of our lives as we continue with our relationships and with our work.
ASHGROVE is a story about a couple in, as they say at one point, a marriage and a friendship struggling with work, with global events, and with the stresses of any relationship. This central relationship is buoyed by strong performances from the two leads who portray a quiet but charming couple recovering from a recent miscarriage. Brugel drives the film with a deft portrayal of a woman obsessed with her life-saving work while Chernick balances this with a quiet and suspiciously twitchy performance as the husband who is hiding something while working hard to support Jennifer. The film’s focus shifts between the two ultimately coming to settle on them as a partnership, as potential future parents, and as people struggling through ongoing disaster.
Director Jeremy LaLonde gradually ramps up the slow-bubbling tensions in Jennifer and Jason’s relationship as well as with their friends and with Jennifer’s work. The intertwining of the personal and the global draws out the film’s heady themes around parenthood, natalism, and whether it’s right to bring a child into a world doomed by ecological disaster. The film’s structure gradually reveals its answer to these questions to be Neitzschen amor fati, the love of fate and the accepting of what has been as the way things are. There are hidden depths deep with ASHGROVE that reveal a film dealing with heady and very timely themes.