Culture Rover

#82 - Splitsville

The Squid and the Whale

A pitch perfect rendition of coming of age during the 1980s, especially in a certain sector of New York City socio-economic environs. Noah Baumbach's film has its disturbing dimensions, but in an oddly quiet and humble register. Never have plagiarizing Pink Floyd lyrics, shoving cashews up one's nostrils, and smearing semen over inappropriate public objects seemed like such reasonable responses to adolescent pain.

The film is not trying to change the world, not even the film world. Unlike Baumbach's compadre, Wes Anderson, who has intriguingly tried to probe deadpan absurdism for new emotive possibilities, Baumbach's film is humanistic. But it refuses to grant redemption to any of its characters.

Though quiet, The Squid and the Whale is brutally honest, which makes it at once more conventional and more unusual than Anderson's experimentalism. Anderson's films ultimately use deadpan as a shield as well as a scalpel; Baumbach shoots Atari lasers at his asteroid characters. As they float in space, broken apart and fragmented, but kept together by the force field of family, the foursome in Baumbach's film reveal that you must go on even after you've used up your chances and stare at the "Game Over" screen.

That's why Jeff Daniels' repressed rage, his brand of muted, failed adult masculinity is the right choice for The Squid and the Whale, as compared to Anderson's sad, defeated, ironic alter-ego, Bill Murray. It's why Laura Linney's lost, frustrated, professional woman in mid-life crisis is just right compared to Anderson's mystical female leads such as Cate Blanchett, Anjelica Houston, or Gwyneth Paltrow.

Most of all, though, the film seeks to document a certain experience and structure of feeling etched in the childhood experiences of many people in their thirties now. It is the experience of growing up in a war-torn landscape of broken marriages and divorces. We are really just beginning to see the effects of this wave of divorce on the children of these ex-relationships. Baumbach shows the pain on all sides, the costs, and the quiet survivals.

16 November 2005

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