16 May 2011

15 May - "I can only look at it with my hands in front of my face"

The Squid and the Whale (2005)
dir. Noah Baumbach (The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004)

Jeff Daniels (Away We Go, 2009)
Laura Linney (The Truman Show, 1998)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network, 2010)
William Baldwin (Flatliners, 1990)
Anna Paquin (X-Men, 2000)
Ken Leung (X-Men: The Last Stand, 2006)

Remember a while back when I posted a brief list of movies that make me cry? Well, that's all gone to shit now. The other day I got all teary watching an episode of Bones (You see, there was this little girl getting abused and then the team at the Jeffersonian discovered that she was kidnapped when she was a baby and then they found her real parents who were super nice). So yeah, I emoted a little when Jesse Eisenberg tells the school psychologist about his one happy memory (Gah! Sad times!).

So I guess I express emotion now, and that's a thing. This movie was very sweet. I'll compare it to The Royal Tenenbaums, but not so much for that distinct Wes Anderson style, but the fact that it's about the disintegration of a family and there is also a tennis player in the movie. The performances are amazing. The little boy that plays the younger son is just spot on. He starts acting out in bizarre and alarming ways, but it just comes off as sad and tragic. Jeff Daniels' character was the most confusing to me. Perhaps his redeeming quality was that he failed to realize that he had no redeeming qualities. He was too involved in being his own ideal man that he didn't realize that he was an asshole and demonstrated no compassion for anyone else, only brief flickers of acknowledgement that sometimes they approached his expectations.

The mother, played by Laura Linney, was more sympathetic, but also despicable in her own way. She appears to be the lesser of two evils, but can never seem to wait an extra moment to get the kids out of her house so she can spend some alone time with the tennis instructor.

The synopsis of this films tells us it's about the "disintegration of a family," but in reality the family has been decimated by apathy well before our entry point into the story. The tragedy is that all of the family members are only pretending that they don't care anymore. The father repeats a few times that he thinks there might be some way to save his marriage, but then, "I think I tried everything already." But of course he didn't. He didn't try anything. And at one point when he exclaims, "All that work I did at the end of our marriage, making dinners, cleaning up, being more attentive. It never was going to make a difference, was it? You were leaving no matter what..." And she laughs and laughs and laughs. First, because he "never made dinner" and secondly because that shit doesn't count for anything, am I right ladies? You don't get extra points for doing what you're supposed to do anyway.

I guess you could say that it's a study of the self-involved, and no one seems to be innocent. I think Jesse Eisenberg's character is clearly supposed to be the hero, of sorts. He seems to come closest to redemption. Or if not redemption, at least regret. He regrets having lost something important with the destruction of his family, while all of others seem too eager to wash their hands of all of it.

The title refers to the hanging sculpture of the squid and the whale fighting at the museum where the mother took the older son when he was a child. He says he was always too scared to look at it, but later, when she described it to him at the end of the day , it wasn't so terrifying anymore. Like the squid and the whale, the parents, for a child, are to much to absorb all at once. To awesome to look at without mediation. But then, returning to scene at the end of the film, the son sees that the squid and the whale aren't so terrifying after all. He discovers that his parents are humans, and flawed, and that they have failed to live up to expectations.

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