The Squid and the Whale

(Note: There are some spoiling elements in the following diatribe.  So, if you want to see "The Squid and the Whale" fresh, you might not want to read the ensuing.)

I’ve never been cheated on.  To my knowledge.

Do you ever really know?  Till years later?  You confront people just before they move out, when the decision has been made.  But are their denials honest or do they just want to stop the hurt?

My parents fought.  Sometimes vociferously.  I remember being upstairs in our split-level discussing with Jill whether they were going to get divorced.  They never did.  They stayed together.  Al got a divorce and stayed in town.  Irv got divorced too.  But his wife moved away.  We lived in a town where everybody stayed together, where divorce still had a stigma.

Maybe that’s why my own divorce hurts so much.  Somehow I didn’t live up to the standard, I failed.  After getting the A’s in school, after doing well enough on the SAT’s to go to Middlebury, after passing the California Bar exam, somehow I couldn’t will this one right.

It takes two.  My ex-wife’s parents had untied the knot.  Divorce was an option for her.  A way out.  I never give up.  But I had to give up on that marriage.  I had no choice.  It wasn’t my decision.

I never go to the movies anymore.  It’s inconvenient.  Not only do I have to drive there and park, they don’t start when I want them to.  In a world where I can have a phone conversation on the run, where I can check my e-mail on a hand-held device, to have to go somewhere at an appointed hour to see a film seems ridiculous.

But I used to go every night.  It was an addiction.  Back when the studios only made 125 pictures a year, back when people aspired to be film directors, to make a statement.

Statements are passe.  Unless they’re bank statements.  Somehow the studios have decided their audience is the world, and have blanded out the product to make it palatable in every nook and cranny of the globe.  I don’t like what my next door neighbor does, do you think my film choices have much to do with those of someone in the Middle East?  And to justify the price, to justify people leaving their houses, studios believe films must do something TV does not.  Feature explosions and special effects that can’t be afforded on HBO, never mind network.  But it’s not about the penumbra, it always has been and always will be about story.

Maybe those in charge of film production don’t want to confront their own lives.  Don’t want to make flicks that reveal their hollow lifestyles.  With the plastic surgery and abuses and excesses.  But they used to.  That’s why we used to go.  To see a reflection of ourselves, to get insight.

They say that the seventies were the last great film epoch.

"The Squid and the Whale" is a seventies film.

What’s astounding is there’s no hero.  Everyone’s flawed.  They’re just putting one foot in front of the other.  Trying to get through.  Like us.

Oh, I had to get out of the house.  I toyed with seeing "King Kong".  After all, Peter Jackson is considered a master.  And, if I saw it I’d have something to talk about at parties.  But I knew from the buzz it just wasn’t good enough.  And that’s a disappointment.  Like the work of the singer-songwriters of today.  Sarah McLachlan couldn’t hold the shoes of Joni Mitchell.  And I want to see "Brokeback Mountain", but Felice went to a screening, and I didn’t want to hassle Century City or pay ten bucks to see it at the inadequate NuWilshire, where the seats are at an angle and the sound is worse than an MP3.

Still, someone must have the DVD of "Squid and the Whale".  It’s not like I had to see it for the production values.  But I ventured out.  To the Westside Pavilion.  And caught the flick.

"The Squid and the Whale" is disturbing.  Because it rings too familiar.  If you’re my age and you’ve never endured a breakup, never mind a divorce, you married the first person you dated or are a neuter.  It’s so painful.  You WERE close.  But no longer.  What they loved about you, they now hate.  You can’t get it back together.

Oh, there’s the unspoken hatred.  Jeff Daniels hitting tennis balls at his wife.

But then there’s the betrayal.  She’s been stepping out on him for years.  She used to adore him, but now she’s done with him.  Ever been involved in a relationship where the other person is done with you?  It’s a HORRIBLE feeling.  Worse than a blind date.  You feel powerless and rejected.

But Jeff Daniels is a pompous bore.  Spewing the intellectualism of the people I went to college with.  Did you know that if you watch TV you’re a philistine?  That’s what my old schoolmates believe.  Yes, they paint the world with that broad a stroke.  I’m one of them.  To see part of myself on screen hurts.

And Laura Linney is the kind of woman men envision.  Attractive who will sleep with you.  But do you want someone who employs seemingly little discrimination?  And who HASN’T lamented their ex has stepped down from themselves?  And why did she have to sleep with Frank’s tennis teacher?  Reminds me of the people who have affairs with the next door neighbor.  Couldn’t they at least find someone new, someone DIFFERENT?

And the kids are reeling.  Walt accuses Laura Linney of not trying hard enough, of breaking up a perfectly good family.  Frank experiments with alcohol, even though he has no pubic hair.  Oh, might sound fantastical in print, but it’s believable on screen.  Suddenly, your safe world is ripped apart.  Suddenly nothing makes sense.  Suddenly, you feel you’re all alone.

We want to be together.

But it’s hard to stay together.  Society tells you to trade what you’ve got for what’s behind the curtain.  For something better.

But what is better?

Unlike a typical Hollywood film, "The Squid and the Whale" provides no answers.  Because there are no answers in life.  Just ongoing episodes, that you try to make sense of, refining your theories along the way.

Jeff Daniels might be nominated for an Academy Award.  Unlikable though his character might be.  But "The Squid and the Whale" is never going to gross $100 million.  Even after all the DVD and cable revenue is counted.  Still, it’s the paradigm of the future.  Making personal stories, in this case, the life of the filmmaker, Noah Baumbach, that resonate with a group.

Call it gold, not platinum, or multiplatinum.  The Internet has broadened the horizon.  Everybody’s getting something tailored for them.

I don’t know if you want to see "The Squid and the Whale".  It’s not for winners.  But, hate to tell you, we’re all losers.

Most people don’t want to look inside.  They want to believe they’re all right.  They’d crack if their world view was questioned.

But questioning is living.  Change is inevitable.  It’s not about stasis, but riding the pony, as it goes in unpredictable directions, as you encounter new and different landscapes you couldn’t even contemplate only moments before.

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