TIFF19: The Goldfinch

I mean, who’s NOT excited to see a film adapted from a 784 page, Pulitzer-prize winning novel about a missing piece of art? Sean Taylor, that’s who. He did, however, make use of the film’s 147 minute run time to have a hearty nap. Hands lightly clasped, mouth totally agape, he slept, and he slept hard, for 60 of the film’s first 65 minutes. So when he did wake up, I wondered what the point was in staying. Surely he was lost. Surely there would be no rejoining the movie at this point.

But the truth is, wide awake as I was and always had been, I wasn’t any more into it. And yes, I had read Donna Tartt’s novel, which has been bowing my bookcase ever since.

The Goldfinch is about a little boy who visits a museum with his mother, who then perishes when the museum is bombed in a terrorist attack. Having survived the bombing, young Theo (Oakes Fegley) wanders around the ruins, searching for his mother, until an old man stops him, and with his dying breath, implores him to take a painting, Fabritius’ The Goldfinch.

Basically orphaned, Theo is sent to live with classmate’s family (Nicole Kidman plays the mother). He befriends the old man’s business partner, Hobie (Jeffrey Wright) and another young survivor, a cute redhead named Pippa, who sustained brain damage in the attack. But just as he’s maybe settling into this new, motherless life, his deadbeat dad (Luke Wilson) shows up, with a surprise girlfriend (Sarah Paulson) in tow, and whisks him off to live in a deserted Vegas suburb of foreclosed homes. His only friend is a boy named Boris (Finn Wolfhard), who’s got some questionable habits, though not nearly as objectionable as his dad’s, as it turns out.

Cut to: adult Theo (Ansel Elgort) is an antiques dealer, working with Hobie in New York City, trying his best just to cope with the lingering effects of the attack, trying hard not to be held hostage by the trauma. He’s held onto this painting, a very historied and valuable painting, all these years, secretly of course, allowing the rest of the world to believe this priceless artifact was destroyed in the bombing along with so much else. But that is not the case.

Can you imagine what this painting might represent to a young orphaned boy, having saved it from the very same rubble in which his mother’s body lay? Director John Crowley cannot. In 2.5 hours, the painting is not a symbol of hope, or a replacement parent, or the receptacle of grief and loss. It’s just a dead thing underneath a kid’s bed, as if it means nothing. In fact, the movie itself means nothing, but it takes an agonizingly long time establishing this nothingness. On and on, with lots of things happening yet none of it finding meaning. And worse yet, it finds no emotional connection, nor does it appear to even look for it. And when you’re talking about childhood trauma and absentee parents and feelings of dread and loneliness – well, you’ve got to be pretty bad at your job not to even accidentally stumble upon some kind of feeling.

The painting The Goldfinch is about how we preserve meaningful bits of our lives and our culture, but the movie The Goldfinch is about how some things are destined to be forgotten.

 

25 thoughts on “TIFF19: The Goldfinch

    1. Jay Post author

      Oooh, I would love to listen to that! I’ve been into true crime podcasts quite a bit lately. I love something with a bit of drama and suspense, and well-researched details!

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    1. Jay Post author

      It’s a pretty big miss. It DOES look gorgeous in quite a few places. The museum’s explosion is particularly Deakins-ish, but unfortunately it’s good work in a messy film.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I like Elgort but no one is given much screen time – even Elgort as the main character splits it with the actor playing his younger self. You never quite get attached to anyone – nor should you, as some are left dangling loose ends and others eventually return only to disappoint.

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  1. Harlon

    This is one of my all-time favourite books, and when I was reading it, I thought – please don’t ruin it by turning 784 pages into a 2 hour plus movie. Lo and behold – it happened. The book was so layered that I shudder to think what they had to cut out from the narrative. The only way I could see this working is if it was turned into a 1 or 2 Season Netflix show. Oh bother! Hope you are enjoying TIFF, it’s my favourite time of the year in Toronto.

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    1. Jay Post author

      We had a wonderful time at TIFF, aside from just the pain and exhaustion and trying to will my body into doing all the things I’ve committed to. Never quite works out, but we give it a go.

      Obviously we all knew the film couldn’t live up to the book, but it doesn’t even make a decent standalone film, I think. Disappointing.

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  2. peggyatthemovies

    I was so bummed at this movie.. I loved the book so much and there was none of the suspense, the fear the ANYTHING in this film. It was disjointed, terribly cast and I just wanted it to end, though I came close to doing what Sean did at the end, I stayed awake.. 🙂

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  3. Liz A.

    And here I thought the trailer looked interesting. I thought, “Wow, that’s what the book was about? I might have to see this movie.” Thanks for warning me.

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    1. Jay Post author

      Yeah, I thought the trailer looked interesting…although it would be hard to glean what exactly the movie’s about from it…just a lot of actors crammed into one little story.

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  4. thepunktheory

    I was in theaters yesterday and saw the trailer for this one. Honestly, I couldn’t figure out for the life of me what the story is supposed to be. There were so many famous faces it was almost irritating.
    Guess I don’t have to bother with watching this one. Although I might give the book a try at some point.

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  5. tjsnk

    Maybe just me, someone who did not read the book, but this movie doesn’t tie up all the subplots as well it as it should. It left me wanting more than it offered. Guess I’ll find the answer in the book, should I ever decide to read it. Sounds like that was much, much better.

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