Thursday, June 01, 2006

"The Squid and the Whale" is a Harrowing Divorce Movie

I know I am six months behind on this discussion, but one of the very few drawbacks of living in a small town is that we get to movies a bit late. This one, though, is not a blockbuster that defines a season. It is not a general-audience movie. It is a film for people who need to think about and chew over how divorce works on kids.

When the film came out it coincided with Elizabeth Marquardt's book Between Two Worlds, and much of the discussion on the Family Scholars Blog, which Marquardt is part of, turned on how well the film depicted the very thing she wrote about.

Noah Baumbach has written a nearly autobiographical fiction about his own parents' divorce, through the eyes of a Noah-like teenager and his little brother. As I wrote on the Family Scholars Blog, I thought it was a richly made movie of selfish parents destroying their children. Baumbach's parents are living, as are most of their friends. He was quoted as saying that when they saw the film for the first time, he looked back at them when it ended; they looked as if they had been flattened by G-forces.

Yet Baumbach was actually fairly gentle with the parents. He shows the mother as doting on her sons, and the father still having some tenderness toward his ex. In interviews Baumbach has been careful not to condemn his parents, or divorce in general. The tagline of the movie is "joint custody blows." The strongest critique he offers is of the tug-of-war between the parents that pulls the kids apart. These fictional parents are much better about that than many real parents manage to be.

Still, the older son is already on the road to emulating his father. He dumps his nice girlfriend because, in his father's estimation, the boy can "do better." At the same time, we see the father getting booted by his third wife and taking up with a woman half his age – who, just to make it worse, is his own student. The little brother is even more scarred – especially after both parents forget him and go away with their new paramours for a weekend. He is about ten, and cries when his parents have the "family meeting" to announce their divorce. He hardens, though, turning to drinking, public sex, and an extremely foul mouth. It is hard not to fear much worse in his future.

As a film, "The Squid and the Whale" is a bit rough around the edges. It has some unfinished parts that show a young director. More importantly, there are parts of the parents' relationship which simply can't be brought into focus when the director is working so close to his own life. Still, this is a rich movie for thinking about the effects of divorce and, therefore, of marriage, on kids.

1 comment:

Reel Fanatic said...

I just love this movie, if I may say so ... It does have some rough edges, but I thought Baumbach painted his flawed parents and his flawed self with a lot of humanity