Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Find ‘The Squid and the Whale’ in a film of family break-up

If you’re looking for a film about sea mammals or a cute cartoon with talking fish, you’ve come to the wrong place. Maybe you should try here or here instead. If you’re more interested in a short feature about how teenage children cope with divorce then stick with me.

The Squid and the Whale focuses on one literary New York family during the traumatic first few months after separation. The film focuses on the loyalties of the two boys, Walt and Frank as they are pulled between their two trying-to-be-civil-but-not-really-managing-it parents. The parents, Bernard and Joan start out with the best of intentions about arranging an amicable split in the interest of their kids, but cannot help but say exactly the wrong thing and under a veneer of suburban reasonableness the tug of war quickly becomes more savage. Both children suffer confusion and doubt as their moral compass is spun around and writer/director Noah Baumbach perceptively captures the responses of the two different age teenagers. Angry at his mum for cheating on his dad the older Walt follows his father’s advice to ‘play the field’ and starts to make the same mistakes his father made. His younger brother’s reaction is portrayed as exhibiting itself through misbehaviour at school and running away between parents as he is unable to express the anger and confusion he feels.

Emotionally the parents are a mess, but the father especially seems to have no-one else on whom he can emotionally offload apart from his son. Expecting Walt to deal with his baggage as well as his own creates an insufferable burden. In one scene, seeing his dad sitting lonely in his new apartment, Walt feels he has to invite his dad along to a movie with his friend. Bernard then enters a relationship with one of his students as he tries to fulfil his emotional needs. The film is an indictment of the isolation and lack of community support in modern day living and also raises questions on a personal and political level about what support we can give separating parents. At the moment in the UK parents may get relationship counselling prior to break up, but following separation this normally stops and many couples get pushed unnecessarily towards solicitors and an adversarial legal set up. Many aren’t aware of the 3rd party mediation services that are available.

The film is devised as a short, intense feature and is very successful within this remit. However, it would have benefited from weaving in the story of a second family going through separation which would give Baumbach the opportunity to explore different ways parents and consequently their children handle family breakdown.

If you’ve got this far and are still wondering about the Squid and the Whale then you’ll have to go and watch this fascinating film to find out where they fit in, but don’t hold your breath looking for sea mammals.

No comments:

Post a Comment