Film: The Squid and the Whale

Posted on November 29, 2010


The Squid and the Whale
Directed by Noah Baumbach (2005)
jusco’s Rating: ★★★

Indie films always works its magic on me. Maybe it’s because I’m an artsy type of person, looking for some meaning so complex it’s impossible to find and comprehend. Or maybe I just simply enjoy the complicated blend of emotions these films invoke because it is so reality grounded, so personal, that I feel for the characters. There is a sort of intimacy that allows me to relate more closely to the people involved in often painful, often heartbreaking, and ironically, often hilarious drama.

The Squid and the Whale is semi-autobiographical, based on Noah Baumbach‘s own life. Set in Brooklyn, NY in 1986, the story involves a family filled with tension. You sense it right from the start, and you can easily guess what’s going to happen. The parents, after being married for 17 years, are fed up with each other and announce to their two boys their imminent separation, leading to joint custody. They were a normal family; in fact, a bit more intellectual and sophisticated than most – both parents are phD holders in English literature, which naturally leads to conversations about Dickens and Kafka over the dinner table. Even the children (one in high school, the other in middle school) seem a bit more mature. But when various rumours that turn out to be truths emerge, relations are all the more strained. What results is a family war, the children forced to take sides with either one of their parents.

(Bernard and Joan, painstakingly played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney)

At times, this film is excruciating to watch. It is so real and raw (and that can be accredited to the director’s personal experiences). Both children figure out their own ways of dealing with the shock, be it through girlfriends or beer. At the same time, the parents are in agony; can this marriage still be saved? Ultimately, though, it seems as though all is lost. Everything seems to sink into quiet solitariness.

(Walt and Frank; tensions arise between the brothers)

However, this film is not all bleak and desolate. In fact, one might even get a glimpse of hope at the end through the older son’s exploration of the past, of memories, of one’s own actions and regretful consequences (played by Jesse Eisenberg – it’s a shame he wasn’t well-known before The Social Network, for he truly shines here). Through various prejudices, assumptions and revelations, we are invited to meditate on life. Along with the characters, we are led on a journey of constant discovery. And though everything may seem dismal and unpromising, there is still the possibility of unearthing redemption, however small it may turn out to be. But then again, sometimes that small spark is just what we need.

Posted in: 4.5-stars, film