Here’s a movie with some personal relevance to me. It’s not like I recognized much in THE SQUID & THE WHALE as familiar – Brooklyn is part of my family’s history but it’s not where I personally grew up, my family is smart but not remotely this pretentious, and none of the dramatic specifics of the story have much at all to do with my own upbringing – but the significance of the unusual title turned out to have a whole lot to do with my memories.
“THE SQUID & THE WHALE” refers to something that is familiar to any kid who grew up in and around New York City – the “Clash Of The Titans” exhibit in the Museum of Natural History’s Hall Of Ocean Life, wherein a giant squid grapples with a sperm whale, miles under the ocean’s surface. In the movie, Jesse Eisenberg’s character suggests that he found this exhibit to be scary – I of course loved it. I definitely preferred the humongous blue whale that hangs suspended over the center of the hall – I would ‘tempt fate’ by standing under it, wondering how the heck that big monster could be held up by such tiny strings. (I loved learning about animals as a kid, but I preferred to leave physics and engineering mysterious.)
So it’s not the most immediately awesome title, but it carries a subtle evocativeness that I really appreciated. Writer/director Noah Baumbach was very clever to choose a title that so serves so blatantly as a metaphor for the central conflict of his movie, but by obscuring its meaning with such a specific reference. The movie is equally smart and thought-provoking; I’m sorry that it took me all this time to get around to seeing it, but I’m glad that it was so worthwhile once I finally did. The performances by the young actors, Owen Kline and the now-deservedly-ubiquitous Jesse Eisenberg, are startling and brave. Laura Linney, as their mom, is always good, and so is Jeff Daniels, one of the most quietly versatile and unfairly underrated actors anywhere in movies. Even Anna Paquin is good in this movie. I also really liked the sunny, autumnal NYC photography by Robert Yeoman, on loan from THE SQUID & THE WHALE‘s co-producer Wes Anderson.
If you’re like me and you held out this long, check this movie out. It’s deeply personal and at times EXTREMELY uncomfortable, but somehow it’s still accessible and palatable because it gets to some really universal feelings.
And that museum looks so great on film.