John Crowley is making a film of the Pulitzer Prize-winning global bestseller The Goldfinch (de. Der Distelfink) as a drama that spans decades and only at the end does the dimensions rise to a level that the film ultimately doesn’t quite do justice to. We reveal more about this in our review.
As an adult: Theo is about to marry Kitsey (Willa Fitzgerald), whom he knows from his childhood.
The plot summary
The last time 13-year-old Theo Decker (as a child: Oakes Fegley) saw his mother was when she went to another exhibition room at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Seconds later, a terrorist bomb exploded, destroying priceless works of art and also shaking Theo’s life forever. The tragedy changes the course of his life and leads to a poignant odyssey between grief and guilt, new beginnings and redemption, friendship and even love. Over the course of these tumultuous years into adulthood, Theo (as an adult: Ansel Elgort) secretly clings to a precious object that is his only tangible connection to the mother he lost that horrific day – a painting of a tiny bird, chained on his perch: the goldfinch.
The Goldfinch Movie Meaning & ending
Not only the fact that Donna Tartt’s 1,024-page novel “The Goldfinch” was awarded the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and the screen adaptation was done by none other than John Crowley (“Brooklyn”) made the two-and-a-half-hour drama seem predestined to be in to win one prize after another in the coming award season. Also the unprecedented star cast with Nicole Kidman (“Lion: The Long Way Home”) , Jeffrey Wright (“The Hunger Games”) , Luke Wilson (“When in Doubt”) , Sarah Paulson (“Ocean’s 8”) , Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver”) as well as newcomers Finn Wolfhard (“It: Chapter 2”) and Oakes Fegley (“Elliot the Dragon”) helped “The Goldfinch” become one of the most anticipated films of the year from the outset – until he was shown at the first press screenings and surprisingly failed there. Rotten Tomatoes currently (status: September 16, 2019) has a positive rating of just 25 percent. Metacritic also has a disappointing average score of 41. But is that really “just” due to disappointed expectations? At least we cannot understand these harsh criticisms. Nevertheless, we have to admit: Although there is nothing wrong with the first half of “The Goldfinch”, the emotional spark only jumps over very slowly. And in the second half, the story noticeably runs out of steam due to its location in the far less interesting here and now (everything before that is characterized by effective flashbacks), although it is only then that the really exciting plot surrounding the title story begins painting comes into play.
Together with his new friend Boris (Finn Wolfhard), Theo (Oakes Fegley) tries to come to terms with the past.
As already mentioned, the film takes its name from the picture of the same name, the existence of which runs like a red thread through the plot. In the explosion in which the protagonist loses his mother as a child, he lets the world-famous and incredibly valuable painting go with him and keeps it from then on as the last reminder of his deceased mother. As the film progresses, however, it becomes less about the painting, which only appears for isolated scenes when the traumatized Theo takes it out from under his bed to look at it for a moment. Instead, it’s more about how the half-orphan tries to come to terms with the blow of fate – and is passed from one short-term home to the next. But although the script by screenwriter Peter Straughan (“The Campaigner”) takes enough time for each individual station in Theo’s life, the emotional punch that is actually so necessary is missing, which means that the viewer remains only a sober observer of the events until the end. Regardless of whether Nicole Kidman self-sacrificingly cares for her son’s best friend and later has to hand him over to Theo’s alcoholic and at some point even (again?) violent father, director John Crowley doesn’t succeed under the excellently composed images of cameraman Roger Deakins (“Blade Runner 2049”) to identify something like an emotional core. It’s not that easy to determine what the actual reason is. Finally, Oakes Fegley delivers a formidable performance as a teenager struck by fate.
Fegley, who became known to a larger audience through his participation in the Disney adventure “Eliott, the Dragon” and once again particularly shone in Todd Haynes’ “Wonderstruck”, embodies the innerly troubled Theo, who at the same time only longs for support and love, with a remarkable performance Understanding of representational ambivalence. Instead of just putting on a sad facial expression all the time, he makes every slight emotion immediately visible without seeming erratic or implausible. Fegley allows both the gradual healing and the continuous existence of isolated large wounds to shine through, becoming a complex character that “Fate is a lousy traitor” star Ansel Elgort unfortunately cannot fully maintain in adulthood. However, the mime, who has now matured into an experienced actor, also has to accomplish the much more difficult part, as his part of the plot sometimes lets him down. While little Theo is constantly confronted with new tests of maturity – sometimes in the form of a dangerously seething father, a foster mother who neglects him or the neighbor boy Boris, with whom he has a deep friendship but also the temptations of alcohol and drug-fuelled adulthood – Ansel has to Elgort’s Theo only has to come to terms with himself before the story finally takes on comparatively absurd features in the final third. In “The Goldfinch,” however, Elgort cannot sufficiently convey the internal battles over guilt and atonement to the outside world, so that the illusion that he and Fegley’s performance are one and the same person does not work.
After all, the final third is finally more about the painting “The Goldfinch”, for which the novelist Donna Tartt already had some exciting options in store. But while the entirely constructed plots, in the course of which the paths of Painting, Theo and some other characters known from the flashbacks, cross again and again, the team of director and author spends significantly less time on the story, which spans over a decade . This seems incongruous, especially in contrast to the first half of the film; Finally, enough time is taken here to illuminate Theo’s difficult childhood in detail and thus in a credible manner. When “The Goldfinch” slips into thriller territory on the home stretch, this genre change seems so forced that it is difficult to concentrate on the film’s actual strengths. Because the drama undoubtedly has that. Especially on the sidelines, the makers always manage to take a sensitive look at topics such as drug addiction, blame and, last but not least, love, although it is completely okay that the much less exciting “resolution” of the film sometimes falls behind – simply because there is a lot It’s more interesting to watch the characters as they mature, rather than waiting by hook or by crook to see how the simmering sources of conflict will be extinguished in the end. Meanwhile, the story is presented by a highly motivated ensemble, in which – as in the case of Nicole Kidman – even details such as the age make-up are correct in order to maintain the impression that “The Goldfinch” is actually about many, many years . The exquisite camera work, dominated by warm tones, as well as the score by Trevor Gureckis, which is very reserved for such a film and is anything but tear-provoking (“Bloodline”) can also compensate for the deficits in the narrative in many places.
Conclusion: The exquisitely illustrated novel adaptation “The Goldfinch” has all the ingredients for an epic, emotional drama and is largely that. But the final third, which is both true to the original and hopelessly constructed, doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the film, which also has to do with the fact that Ansel Elgort as the adult main character doesn’t act as confidently as usual – and his much younger colleague Oakes Fegley as a child. What remains is a really good film, but also one that falls far short of its potential.
“The Goldfinch” can be seen in USA cinemas from September 26th.