Xavier Dolan’s Tom at the Farm (Tom à la ferme) (2013) utilizes psychological thriller conventions as a starting point, offering an examination into the forms of violence that manifests as a result of affirming self-possession, and identity through inflicting abusive power over individuals that enter into a cultural sphere separate from their own. The title itself, Tom at the Farm, is indicative of the power the environment holds upon the inhabitants; the anonymity of farm is veiled through withholding the location of the story unfolding, while Tom, portrayed by Xavier Dolan, is identified, wherein he becomes the subject of primary focus. Dolan is suggesting that the prime agency of cruelty embodied by Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal) is able to assert his power through the anonymity of identity through his surrounding environment, and by extension, of himself.
Tom at the farm, based on Michel Marc Bouchard’s play, fixates on the theme of identity that appear in Dolan’s previous films (J’ai tué ma mere, Les amours imaginaires, Laurence anyways, and Mommy), however, as mentioned beforehand, it operates within the framework of a psychological thriller: pop music is replaced with a tense score courtesy of composer Gabriel Yared, while the barren rural backdrop captures Tom’s escalating isolation. Tom initially attends the funeral of his deceased boyfriend held in his hometown, and becomes an object of obsession to Francis; however, aesthetically shifting visual attention from luxuriant compositions(evident in his previous works), Tom at the farm unsettles the audience by attentively focusing on the power relationship exhibited between Tom and Francis as it develops through humanizing Francis, offering insight into Francis’s motivations and by the mid section, Tom internalizes guilt and willfully subjects himself to Francis’s physical and emotional abuse. According to Dolan, to quote an interview conducted by Joseph Belanger at Blacksheepprevies.com, he affirms “It’s about understanding people. Tom is a wounded animal, and Francis is another sort of wounded animal.” Both are portrayed with an understanding of their cultural conditioning reflected through their character development throughout the film. As the credits roll, the rural environment is replaced with the cityscape viewed from Tom’s point of view, regaining self-assertion as he awakens from his nightmare.
Focusing on the relationship held between Tom and Francis through intimate compositions and narrative, Tom at the farm encompasses and expands Dolan’s cinematic trajectory while re-framing familiar themes of identity, self possession and assertion, explored within his filmography.