After writing about Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, on which the director says it is about what really matters in life, I found myself thinking about other films that tell stories from our everyday reality. Magical stories like Pan’s Labyrinth, or mind-blowing narratives like The Matrix definitely have the “wow” effect as such films allow us to enter altered realities and escape our world for 120 mins. However, it doesn’t diminish the charm of stories drawn out of our very own life.
Noah Baumbach, to me, is one of the most skillfull directors to tell such stories. He tells stories of marriages (i.e Marriage Story), divorces, families, love. Circling around similar themes, the conversations and relationships almost always resonate with the viewer and if you ask me, his films guarantee a delightful time.
A few fun facts: Noah Baumbach is a filmmaker based in New York, and is married to Greta Gerwig (directed Little Women). Baumbach’s brother Nico is a film professor in Columbia University, with whom I’d love to work and applied for it, but didn’t get in the program. It wasn’t a solid rejection, but I never made it out the waitlist. Oh, well. The brothers were born to former film critic Georgia Brown and novelist Jonathan Baumbach.
The film is loosely inspired by the director’s own life. The film is set in Park Slope, in Brooklyn, where Baumbach lived through his parents’ separation in the 1980s. It follows how the two young boys Frank (Owen Kline) and Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) deal with their parent’s divorce.
“Mom and me versus you and Dad,” the film opens as we see the family on a tennis court. Frank’s words prove to foreshadow what is yet to come within the film. As the parents work through a complicated divorce in which they try to agree on joint custody, the boys readily choose sides. Even the cat is tried to be shared equally between the former spouses.
While Frank feels more comfortable with his mom, he has to deal with the fact that she is not a saint and has made mistakes. Walt admires his father very much that his faults are invisible to him. His admiration leads him to mimic his father’s literary comments, only to end up calling Kafka’s books “Kafkaesque.”
“It’s written by Franz Kafka. It has to be.”
However in time, the veil lifts to allow the boys to see their parents as humans with mistakes and vulnerabilities. As a part of their maturity, the boys learn to love their parents as they are.
The Squid and The Whale tells a beautiful story from our everyday reality, about what matters in life. The film draws an honest picture of a divorce’s effects on the kids and the confrontation with parents’ mistakes as a part of growing up.
Although the film centers the divorce of a couple, it is more of a coming of age story than the pains of an ending marriage. I’d direct you to see Marriage Story, if you haven’t already, for a poetic depiction of the ugliness of a separation process.