The Goldfinch | Third Space

The Goldfinch

Thu 30 Apr 2020
Sometimes the story is better left on the pages of the book

2 out of 5 stars

When reading a book that is over 700 pages in length, it is hard to comprehend how it could be adapted into a film. Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel is an example of a project that leaves little hope for those who want to bring this award-winning story to cinemas. Regardless of the immensity of this tale surrounding Carel Fabritius' masterpiece, The Goldfinch, it proved too irresistible and brought to life as a movie. Any fan of Tartt’s book would say that the words do desire to escape the pages of the book and fly into theatres.

The whole journey begins with Fabritus' work being admired by Theo Decker (Oakes Fegley) and his mother at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The 13-year-old remains to admire the painting and a young girl standing close by with her grandfather. At the same time, his mother, Audrey Decker (Hailey Wist) goes to another area of the museum. It is while they are separated that a bomb explodes in the gallery and kills Audrey plus many more people. Theo manages to escape the disaster, but is encouraged by a dying man to take the painting and a mysterious ring that will become the key that opens the door to his future.

Since he has no relatives in the city, he is initially placed with the Barbours until other arrangements can be made. The matriarch of the family, Samantha Barbour (Nicole Kidman) sees this as a necessary burden, but eventually comes to adore Theo. During this time, he also seeks out those who would be able to give him answers to the ring that was given to him by the dying man. At an antique shop named Hobart & Blackwell, he introduces himself to James "Hobie" Hobart (Jeffrey Wright). The furniture restorer eventually mentors the young man in the craft of fine furniture restoration.

As Theo begins to consider his calling in Hobie's world and is accepted by the Barbours, his life gets abruptly interrupted again. The boy's estranged father arrives to take him away to his life in Las Vegas. The sudden change from the wealth and discipline of the Barbours to the neglectful atmosphere of his father forces Theo to look for friendships at school. Boris Pavlikovsky (Finn Wolfhard) is a Russian immigrant who comes along as a social outcast and the two begin their journey of surviving neglectful parents and drug experimentation.

For anyone still following this illustrious and complicated tale, that is merely the first act of the film. One act that has more twist and turns than most films contain in their full run. Thus proving that this novel would be an insurmountable undertaking to fit into standard production. The book was laborious and in need of a good edit, while the abridged film version fails to measure up. The backstory of the painting, the beauty of New York City and the well-cast talent did deliver a glimpse of hope for John Crowley’s (Brooklyn) project. The problem was that he and screenwriter Peter Straughan tried to cram every aspect of the book into the film. Instead of enriching the story, it made character development difficult and watered down the script. Which turned Theodore Decker’s arch into a bland and confusing mess with massive plot holes to fill.

For fans of the book, Ansel Elgort (Baby Driver) and Oakes Fegley (Wonderstruck) do fill the shoes of the lead character. Nicole Kidman does personify the distant, but caring Samantha Barbour, as do most of the cast. The problem lies in the proverbial “biting off more than you can chew” aspect of this project. A bizarre, tragic and complex novel that proves to be too much for anyone to deliver. A story that is better on the page than on the big screen.

REEL DIALOGUE: What is wrong with a little lie?

"Lies beget more lies: once you start lying you have to keep lying more and more to hide the lies that you already told."

You may be able to hear the words of your mother on the topic of lying. One lie can begin a chain of events that only come to a resolution when the truth comes out. Do not lie is not exclusive to the Bible. Still, it is a moral code that can save relationships, reputations and lives.

Theodore Decker is caught up in the vicious cycle of lying throughout The Goldfinch. A mixture of lies, grief and a need for acceptance would be enough for anyone to consider substance abuse and other self-destructive activity. What becomes evident in this familiar storyline is the value and relief of the truth. It may be hard and painful, but inevitably it does prove to be the best path for life and relationships.

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue is but for a moment. Proverbs 12:19

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