A writer father and a filmmaker daughter walk the fine line between adoration and disappointment, success and failure, race, family and art. Until he dies and in her grief, she discovers his poetry and prose transcend death, allowing her to hear his voice again and find a way back to her own self.
Trinidanian poet and writer Wayne Brown uses words to bring his white looking daughter into being. With a certainty like the knowledge of the next rising tide, Wayne declares to his wife, Megan, who has had many miscarriages and has no hope left, that, soon they will move to England and once there, she will get pregnant, and give birth to a healthy baby girl. Mariel is born out of words. However in spite of the mystical origin of their connection, as life unfolds and in much the same way as many daughters experience, Mariel’s love and adoration for her father become tinged by resentment and disappointment. Until it’s too late for words. Any words.
The magic incantations that brought Mariel to life, soon start to feel like a trap; as though the person she was meant to become was not to be of her own deciding. She is envious of her sister Saffrey’s apparent freedom and feels misunderstood by her mother – with whom she has lived since her parents’ divorce. When Mariel chooses a creative career, she begins shaking the foundations of her father’s pedestal – questioning him: why he hasn’t written and published more; or why in over 30 years, has he not finished a single major book? Has he been his own saboteur? Wayne has cast a long shadow over Mariel, but bringing him down to life size hurts him and in the end herself too.
In her 30s, Mariel starts seeing things differently and on Christmas day she writes to him to apologize and forgive him for his many cruel words. A week later, he calls her from his home in Jamaica to say he has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. By the next Christmas, Wayne is dead. Were the hurtful words exchanged an ominous spell, one that new words of forgiveness couldn’t undo?
After her father’s death, Mariel has an emotional breakdown, with acute anxiety – too many words could be heard, like a never-ending stream of consciousness. She can’t find the courage to read her father’s writing, and the sea, that watery ribbon by which she had always been tied to him, brings her no comfort. Years later, a dream wakes Mariel at dawn. She is sailing with her father, no land in sight, and she’s stung by a bee. She laughs. And so does her father. They are the first laughs between them in many years. Mariel goes sailing for the first time, thereby squarely confronting her sense of loss and moving on in the very waters and with the very words that brought them together. In carefully unraveling the threads of her father’s life, she discovers that his art transcends death and allows her to hear his voice again, and ultimately to find a way back to her own self.