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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Goldfinch is a drama-mystery based on Donna Tartt's 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. The story focuses on Theo Decker (played at different ages by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) and a valuable painting he takes from a museum after a terrorist attack kills his mother. The bombing and its aftermath include upsetting images; additional violence includes a suicide attempt, child abuse, and gunplay. Smoking and drug and alcohol abuse are rampant among both adults and teens; one scene demonstrates how to cut up prescription drugs to intensify a high. There's not too much sexual content, but you can expect plenty of strong language ("f--k," "s--t"). Lies, betrayals, and gambling all have consequences, and the story plays with our notions of what makes a person -- or an outcome -- "good" or "bad." Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright, and Finn Wolfhard co-star.
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What's the story?
In the chaos of a terrorist attack at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art that kills his mother, Theo Decker (played at different ages by Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort) steals a valuable painting of a goldfinch. As he grows up, Theo moves from guardian to guardian, keeping the artwork close while gathering more secrets. THE GOLDFINCH is based on Donna Tartt's 2014 bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name.
Is it any good?
Just like the antique Chippendale antique restorations that Theo sells, this movie's source material is exquisite, but the changes applied to transform the piece degrade the entire product. Not that adapting the story could ever be considered an easy task: Tartt's novel is nearly 800 pages long, and a great deal of it is Theo's internal struggle and dialogue. But unfortunately, the big-screen Goldfinch doesn't sing, it warbles -- and, at two and a half hours, you might wish you could silence it. Still, it offers quite a bit of chewy content to contemplate, discuss, and debate.
The story is a complete original, but the movie does feel like a couple we've seen before. When Theo is a child, it's like Stand by Me -- young teens bond over loss, abuse, and the unfairness of life. When he's a young man, it's more Bright Lights, Big City: A handsome 20-something New Yorker battles his demons with drugs as he tries to settle his affairs of the heart and get on the right path. The Goldfinch does boast memorable performances: Nicole Kidman's poised, proper, yet caring and protective temporary foster mother; Sarah Paulson as the chain-smoking girlfriend of Theo's actor-turned-gambler dad; and Finn Wolfhard as Theo's bad-influence best friend. It all adds up to what might be best described as an empathy hot pot -- not so much a tearjerker, but once the credits roll, you realize your heart is fully cooked.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Goldfinch's theme of fate/destiny vs. free will/coincidence. Was Theo guided to "exactly where he was meant to be with the people he was meant to be with," or do you think he met them all by chance?
Do you think Theo is resilient or a survivor -- or is that the same thing? What about Pippa and Boris? How is the painting used as a metaphor as it relates to Theo?
The Goldfinch is a real painting that's currently on display at The Hague. Why do you think real-world works of art -- visual, musical, and literary -- are referenced throughout the movie? Did it make you feel a greater connection to the film -- or impose a greater distance if those works weren't meaningful to you?
What does Theo mean when he says "We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves"? How do the characters disguise themselves to each other? Can you see parallels to that in your life or in social media?
- In theaters: September 13, 2019
- On DVD or streaming: December 3, 2019
- Cast: Nicole Kidman, Luke Wilson, Finn Wolfhard, Ansel Elgort
- Director: John Crowley
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Book Characters, Friendship
- Run time: 149 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: drug use and language
- Last updated: July 16, 2020
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