Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Squid and the Whale

2005, US, directed by Noah Baumbach

In its quiet way, The Squid and the Whale is an extraordinarily violent film, though here the violence is largely psychological and usually involves two young sons being used as weapons in an increasingly bitter separation. Given that the film is drawn at least partly from Noah Baumbach's own life, it's hard to avoid the occasional wide-eyed response as you wonder whether people really do these things to each other and their own children. But of course they do, and often far worse, though at least Baumbach is able to mine his own experiences with considerable blunt humour, relentlessly exposing his parents (or their surrogates) for the self-obsessed people they apparently were - while not sparing the younger generation.

Like Baumbach's earlier Kicking and Screaming, the film has a very loose plot, and yet there's nothing accidental about the way in which he stitches his scenes together: the tapestry of incident builds in power as he subtly but insistently demolishes the apparent honest, open approach of these two self-consciously liberal parents (very well played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney).


Anonymous said...

I remember seeing this movie at the Embassy and not really knowing what I was getting myself into. And then finding myself uncontrollably giggling immediately after I felt highly disturbed. Great juxtapositions and brilliant imagery. And it's been a while since I saw it (clearly), but I think I remembered really getting into the soundtrack, too? Can you enlighten/remind me? Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney rarely (if ever) disappoint, do they? And that little kid was fabulous in all his eccentricities.

Gareth said...

The soundtrack is indeed very good; Baumbach of course weaves a whole plot section around the song "Hey You," which one of the boys claims as his own, and there are also several songs by one of my favourite artists, Loudon Wainwright III, which automatically boosts the movie's credentials for me.

I also can't help thinking that at least a passing familiarity with a college classroom and its residents adds a certain something to the film.

Anonymous said...

Ah, YES! Thanks for the Loudon Wainwright III reminders! I had completely forgotten...

Right. Seeing Jeff Daniels back in an academic environment took me back to _Terms of Endearment_, which represented a whole other type university involvement in marital strife (not to mention a TOTALLY different tone and soundtrack).


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