The Squid and the Whale

Jane and I just watched The Squid and the Whale last night.  It has been out for about a year and a half now; this is what happens when you depend on Netflix to see movies.  I blame the children for this.

It’s an excellent movie.  It is essentially about a couple going through a divorce, and how that impacts their two sons.  Jeff Daniels and Laura Linney play the parents, and Jessie Eisenberg and Owen Kline play the sons, and each performance is fantastic, particularly those of Daniels, Eisenberg and Kline.

There are a number of great, small moments in the movie, my favorite being the reactions of each of the sons as they go through their day, knowing when they get home that night they will be told their parents are getting a divorce.

After we watched the movie, Jane and I took an inventory of people we know, and how many of them either are divorced or had parents who divorced.  It probably ends up about 50/50 in each category, but many of my friends in particular came from homes that went through a divorce.  Both Jane and my parents are still married, so on some levels divorce is difficult to relate to, particularly as it concerns how kids deal with divorce.  I haven’t had the conversation with too many of my friends about how they were impacted by their parents’ divorce; most of them are pretty well-adjusted in general, so it’s easy to draw the conclusion that it wasn’t that big of a deal for them, but obviously the reality has to be more complicated than that.  For many kids a divorce probably makes their lives better in the short or long term, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy thing to go through.  And of course it also depends on how old a kid is when it all happens.

For the most part in my life I have tended to view the marital status of my friends’ parents as a simple matter of demographics, just another part of their backstory like where they grew up or what they studied in school.  But after we watched the movie and took that mental inventory of divorce-impacted friends, I started to think more about what kinds of things my friends may have had to deal with, or adjust to, as they grew up.  For many of them I’m sure it was a challenge, but ultimately just another part of life they had to deal with.  For others, I’m sure it was more profound than that.

It’s hard to say divorces are necessarily bad things; many of the people I know ended up closer to a step-parent than their real ones.  But all the same, I’m glad I came from a family that didn’t go through that.  Growing up was tough enough without having to deal with that.

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4 Responses to The Squid and the Whale

  1. Clint says:

    /begin rant

    Although I am happily married now, divorcing my first wife was definitely a good step. Thankfully, we had no kids. The divorce was a hard enough decision even without kids. Now that I am married with kids, I can pretty honestly say that I would have to be pretty darn miserable before I became convinced that divorce was an option. I think kids are pretty resilient, and most of them are ultimately able to deal with dramatic changes in their life with relatively little scarring, but seeing the way our kids act and knowing that they have a happy, healthy, worry-free environment to grow up in makes me sleep a whole lot better at night.

    We have some friends that are going through a rough spot due to the husband’s wandering eye. He slept with his wife’s best friend. I have not exactly been a saint in the past, but I cannot imagine him doing this given that they have two kids. They are trying to work through it, but he really went over the top. He is not exactly the “catch of the day” either, which makes his transgressions even more confusing to me. The relevance of this is simply that I would not have been so offended, nor so aware of the issue, until I got married with kids.

    /end rant

  2. pipelineblog says:

    I have a friend who’s in family law, and his opinion is that generally speaking kids aren’t a great reason to stay in a marriage if but for the kids divorce would be the choice. I tend to agree, generally; kids don’t benefit from growing up with unhappy parents. But obviously situations are unique and case-by-case.

    Of course, in the scenario you describe, the parents may not have been unhappy until one of them decided to sleep with their spouse’s friend, always a great move.

    This is why I make it a rule to only be friends with people who are completely, totally undesirable.

  3. kelly says:

    I loved this movie…. its really well performed. The one thing that stood out to me, is even super smart articulate writers get relationship fatigue and seem unable to deal with one another in any sort of logical fashion once divorce is on the table. And its odd, because up until that moment, they can at least passively aggressively deal with the same issues, then BAM, everything changes. Its as though divorce is so utterly cathartic and relationships so disfunctional, that no matter who you are, your relationship abruptly stops or escelates in an oddly over the top fashion. Logically I expect some people to be relieved, and for it to actually get better once things start, as though divorce were simply a milestone in the continuum of a relationship. Guess some things are nearly universal.

  4. pipelineblog says:

    I disagree slightly with your characterization of the family’s issue being “relationship fatigue”. The only part about the movie that made me angry was why, oh why, nobody ever confronted the husband with the fact that he was an unemotional, self-involved pompous ass. Clearly that wasn’t the kids’ responsibility, which leaves the wife. Of course that’s easier said than done, and that’s how people have affairs for years before they get divorced, because the affair is easier than confronting someone and losing the family. When Jeff Daniels keeps saying he’s done everything he can to save the marriage, I just wanted Laura Linney to scream that it didn’t matter what he DID, it’s what he WAS that was the problem. But if she never pierced that bubble of self-involvement, it’s a little unfair to expect him to just suddenly come to the realization that he’s a self-involved ass.

    It’s absurd that I wrote that, because it makes him seem sympathetic, and there’s just not a single redeeming quality he has in the entire movie, and I don’t blame her for the affairs or for the divorce. But like you say, people deal for a long time, and then all of a sudden everything has to change.

    The whole competing writers angle was interesting too. The son obviously believed for a time that was the issue, perhaps because his dad led him to that belief. It’s not clear what role it really played in the divorce; I think it wasn’t a specific cause of anything, but was emblematic of the general arc each spouse’s life was taking. One lived in the past and was trending down (and not getting laid), and the other in the now and trending up (and getting laid). Not happy times.

    Reading our comments makes this movie seem like a real drag, and it is on many levels, but it ends up being enjoyable and uplifting overall. It’s the feel-good divorce/adolescent masturbation movie of 2005!

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