Starring: Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline
Director: and written by Noah Baumbach
THE Squid and the Whale is all about being consumed – consumed by rage, resentment and unrealistic expectations.
Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is a professor of English literature at New York University and was once a celebrated author. He cannot get his most recent novel published.
His wife Joan, was once his student, and he encouraged her to write. She has just had her first book published.
Joan’s success and Bernard’s resentment highlights all that’s wrong in their marriage. Joan has an affair and Bernard moves out.
The Berkmans come to an agreement about the custody of their boys, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who is devoted to his father and will do anything to win his approval, and the 10-year old Frank (Owen Kline), a sensitive and kind boy.
The children become bludgeoning tools in the marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce.
Bernard is particularly nasty in the demands he makes of his sons, his poor role modelling, and the poisonous way he speaks to them about their mother.
Walt and Frank have to grow up too quickly and make a choice about where they want to live, and who they want to become.
Maybe the title of this film has a literary allusion of which I am unaware. It’s unclear what it means in this story until we discover it is the exhibit at the natural history museum that most scared Walt when he was a boy.
And then we get it, we get the film.
THE Squid and the Whale is a dark, but all too real, portrait of how children are used as pawns in divorce, and the price everyone pays for it.
This tough tale has brutal language that some viewers will not like, but marriage breakdown and family separation is rarely pretty.