Wednesday, October 02, 2019

The Beautiful Mess of The Goldfinch

This is one of the few reviews of “The Goldfinch” that attempts to grapple with trauma, and the effects of trauma, in a young life. And while I can (and will) quibble just a bit with the commentary, I think it’s fundamentally correct. I’m still baffled by all the negative reviews of this film, and I will defend this film as both a faithful encapsulation of Donna Tartt’s sprawling novel and a beautifully framed and filmed love letter to New York City. What a lovely movie.

But let’s talk trauma, shall we?

First, the quibble: I didn’t find the portrayal of the young Theo to be inaccurate or in the least unbelievable. He doesn’t act like a little adult, as the reviewer comments. He acts like a repressed kid on the verge of adolescence. He stuffs the trauma. He simply doesn’t know what to do with it. It comes out in dreams (as it often really does). It comes out in the inability to articulate emotions. It comes out in the uneaten meals, the inability to concentrate on a stupid game of chess.

I agree with the reviewer that the young adult Theo still acts like a child. He is impulsive (flying off to Amsterdam on the verge of his wedding), indecisive, confused, addicted, floundering. But again, such behavior is entirely consistent with the devastating effects of childhood trauma, which leaves its victims stunted, emotionally frozen at the point at which the trauma occurred. Again, the behavior is entirely believable. The audience wants to see a young adult. But there is no young adult there. There is only a badly damaged young adolescent.

I like this film. It’s not perfect, but it’s good, and it’s true. At this point, all the negative reviews have probably doomed it to a quick exit from theaters. And that’s unfortunate. It deserves to be seen. See it while you still can.

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