The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale

“Mom and me versus you and Dad.”

In general, movies put forth a caricature of real life rather than a snapshot of reality. Reality can be boring at times, yes; but reality can also be a lot more harsh than what we want to see in movies. Every once in awhile, a movie comes along that’s so emotionally real that it hurts. The Squid and the Whale is that kind of movie. Noah Baumbach wrote the script based on his own childhood and originally pitched it to Wes Anderson to direct. Anderson loved the script, but felt that Baumbach should direct it due to how personal it was to him. The writing and acting are brilliant. Emotionally raw and brutal, this movie captures the nuances of divorce unlike any other film I’ve seen.

The Squid and the Whale captures the implosion and collapse of a family. Bernard and Joan are two writers living in New York with their two sons, Walt and Frank. Very early in the film, Bernard and Joan separate and begin the highly political joint custody shuffle. Walt and Frank each pick a side, but the emotional distress brings out the worst in everyone. It’s more a movie about learning to cope than it is about any event.

I was always afraid of the squid and whale fighting. I can only look at it with my hands in front of my face.

Though a little too real at times, The Squid and the Whale is heavy with well-done symbolism and metaphors. (I have a B.A. in English, and I’m resisting the urge right now to English-major the shit out of this.) The writing is poignant and elegant, but still easy to grasp. The characters are deep, complex, and highly relatable at times. Each of the four main characters has great aspirations coupled with crippling self-doubt, resulting in them needing constant affirmation. They wind up so engrossed in what they chase after that they become completely lost in it. There are no heroes and villains—there are only broken people who struggle to coexist.

Bernard is a hurting man in The Squid and the Whale
When pain is overwhelming, roles and responsibilities can be quickly forgotten.

Any kid who’s watched his or her parents divorce has witnessed the troubling transformation of parents from caregivers into hurting people who need help. As much as it rips things apart, it also draws people together in new, although not always healthy, ways. It’s something that’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t lived through it; but The Squid and the Whale captures it eloquently. Baumbach doesn’t gloss over the negative traits that led to the divorce or the fallout, so some of the scenes are very uncomfortable to watch. The ending, while not your typical happily-ever-after ending, does offer some hope in the midst of the turmoil, so hold on to the end.

The Squid and the Whale, while brilliant, can be hard to watch. I often see it described as a dramatic comedy, but I found little to laugh at. But the film is still fantastic. It’s a real and raw portrait of some very complex emotions, and I think it’s accessible to any adult (definitely not kids or young teens). If you’re a writer or book lover, the in-jokes and references will make you feel right at home. If you’ve lived through parents’ divorce, you’ll find much to relate to in all of the characters. Check it out!

Academy Awards

Nomination: Best Writing, Original Screenplay (Noah Baumbach)

View my complete list of classic, essential, or just plain good movies!

Runtime: 1:28
Director: Noah Baumbach
Year: 2005
Genres: drama, indie
Rating: R

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