There’s something universal that lingers all throughout The Squid and the Whale which I find is what helps it elicit the power it contains within the brief running time it sustains. Something to which I ended up finding a whole lot more personal at the same time not only in the sense that it was on Noah Baumbach’s end but also on my own, for it hit rather heavily on a personal note everywhere I would have least expected it to land. Maybe it could be I was expecting too little, even for Noah Baumbach, but with The Squid and the Whale he has clearly left behind something that is so resonant it only touches me so deeply.
Noah Baumbach’s film is not one that merely touches upon what divorce does to people growing up but how it affects one’s perception of the world around them. Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline star as brothers in Baumbach’s unique coming-of-age film going through their parents’ divorce. The parents are played by Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney. Just as the boys struggle coping with living in joint custody, they also end up learning more about their parents which soon opens them up to learn more about the world around them. It became clear to me from the sound of how everything was developing where The Squid and the Whale found a sense of resonance amidst myself, which just caught me out of nowhere and held me off from revisiting.
I had only ever seen The Squid and the Whale once before paying another visit but if I were to say I was not so heavily impacted because of what more it proved itself to be, I would already be lying on the spot. My expectations on the first watch were that knowing Baumbach primarily through his collaborations with Wes Anderson and Frances Ha, I was expecting a quirky comedy-drama about what divorce does to families, only to have been proven completely wrong as instead what I received was something so much more meaningful within the look that its premise suggested. Such an impact had only prevented me from revisiting The Squid and the Whale because I began to feel something within myself that only came by just like I was watching a family almost like my own, for Noah Baumbach wished to touch upon said experiences by sharing what he and his brother encountered as children. But then there comes a need I have to share my own story.
My parents have never divorced, but me and my younger brother, who feel so alienated from one another have always seen the two of them fight on occasion, and sometimes their yells get so loud much to the point we raise the volume on our own hobbies to block everything else out. Then out of nowhere, they just want to take us someplace while we’re still getting something done that feels important to either one of us. Whenever they take us out of our seats for wherever they go, there’s no realization on their end that these moments have scarred the both of us because we know they just want a time to force the family to be “together,” only to have broken us all apart even further. It’s so hard to arrange gatherings because we can rarely ever agree upon who carries responsibilities along the way, and we all have come to a point our own selves have consumed the best of us. So much on my end, to that point I’ve only said to myself I was only living to find a way to make others happy even if it were to cost me my own happiness.
I turned on The Squid and the Whale one day at the recommendation of my teacher, who lent me his copy with knowledge that I was a big fan of Wes Anderson. I was never ready to come in and experience what would turn out to be something that I could relate with so much, especially when looking at events from the perspective of Jesse Eisenberg’s character. I watch him as he learns more about his parents in the sense he soon grows another perception of what the world around him has been like the whole time, living within a web of lies. I’ve been staying under a cover for the longest while already, I just feel that within the inside of myself, so much has been false to that point I just take comfort in people whom I meet on the Internet, for I feel within some of the closest friends I chat with so often there there’s an understanding that just feels much easier compared to those whom I know up close. Yet paranoia and insecurity still gets to me about what they tell others about someone like me, am I just pulling off an act only to get sympathy from people whom I don’t know? And to suppose I was expecting a quirky comedy only to have been proven wrong by experiencing something that left its mark upon me almost like that of a scar.
When I revisited The Squid and the Whale only now, my parents have a three-week vacation planned for me and my brother which is obligatory on our own ends, they promise us that the trip is going to be unforgettable. But I’m wondering if they ever wonder what I’m thinking when that term comes into my mind. Do they mean “unforgettable” as in it will be something that will root in our minds in a positive manner? Or could it be a possibility that it’ll root in our minds only to scar us because we know already at the rate where we all are, just alienated from what had kept everyone together, there’s a chance that it could only break everyone else apart. But maybe even my own selfishness has gotten to me I can’t allow them to separate because I don’t even think I’m ready to cope up with how things are set to go so fast. Amidst the awkwardness of the turn of events are in Noah Baumbach’s semi-autobiographical film, it will ring as funny for some but on some counts, just like it did myself, it rang truth.
At only 81 minutes, this film felt longer than it actually was but maybe in the best sense. Our lives crumble away so slowly to that point that when we feel such incredible pain coming anywhere, they make seemingly small moments linger on even longer. Maybe that was what The Squid and the Whale has been for me this whole time. Just the uncomfortable nature of what would ever happen if everything really begins to fall apart because we’re all caught up within lies on all ends. What Noah Baumbach evoked on the spot with taking his own childhood experiences together with his younger brother was so heavy-hitting because we recognized its universality. Families of all different kinds go through this sort of stress at some point or another. We think we’re together, but we’re just living life with one lie at a time. I begin to question my own existence at times when I know what I strive for, and I’m thinking that what I’m seeing here could be a mirror of what will come forward for myself. What does anything even mean anymore? I can’t find an answer alone. When I’m living within lies, I can imagine people would only think I’m trying to collect sympathy and I don’t even know what I mean to anyone.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Samuel Goldwyn Films.
Directed by Noah Baumbach
Screenplay by Noah Baumbach
Produced by Wes Anderson, Charlie Corwin, Clara Mankowicz, Peter Newman
Starring Jeff Daniels, Laura Linney, Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline, William Baldwin, Anna Paquin
Release Year: 2005
Running Time: 81 minutes