The Squid and the Whale Movie Poster Image

The Squid and the Whale



A family falls apart -- for adults only.
  • Rated: R
  • Genre: Drama
  • Release Year: 2005
  • Running Time: 88 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Parents are cruel to one another.


Some slapping, fighting, and emotionally distressed interactions.


Heavy sexual content, in verbal and visual forms (language includes slang for genitals and activity); masturbation by a young boy, who also tries on a condom; parents engage in adulterous affairs and talk about them; teacher tries to seduce his female student.


Frequent uses of the f-word, plus sexual slang, s-word, "damn," "ass."

Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Frequent drinking and some smoking.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this is a film for mature viewers, dealing with difficult emotional and moral themes. The family members are hurtful to one another, by deceit, betrayal, quarreling, and spitefulness. Characters smoke occasionally and drink frequently (an underage child drinks beer); one character vomits in a toilet. Most of the sexual content is narrated, as characters describe personal histories and desires, often with graphic language (slang for genitals, frequent uses of the f-word). Some characters engage in sexual activity (a college student kisses her teacher, young couple kisses, mom has affair with tennis pro, a shot from Blue Velvet shows breasts, a young boy masturbates on library books, wipes his semen on a locker, tries on a condom). Some minor violence, including brothers fighting, a wife slapping her estranged husband, an accidental bloody nose.

What's the story?

THE SQUID AND THE WHALE focuses on a family's painful dissolution. Its primary point of view belongs to Walt (Jesse Eisenberg), who is mad -- at his divorcing parents Joan (Laura Linney) and dad Bernard (Jeff Daniels), and his 12-year-old brother Frank (Owen Kline). Walt also feels guilty about the breakup, as well as angsty and twingey because of his 16-year-old hormones. A once famous novelist, Bernard is now a frustrated creative writing professor who sucks up his female students' crushes like air. Bernard moves into a place nearby, and the boys move between apartments on alternate nights, but this does little to ease the transition. Frank is so undone by their bickering that he's soon discovered by school library staff masturbating onto books, the bizarre sign of love and value in his own family. Life becomes decidedly more difficult for the boys as they, and their parents, struggle with the familial upheaval.

Is it any good?


Noah Baumbach's reportedly autobiographical film is provocative and intelligent. It tracks Walt's slow evolution during the months surrounding the divorce, while keeping something of a distance, wry and observant.

Providing such detail concerning Walt's disintegrating psyche, the film is occasionally clunky (he sees a museum exhibit called "The Squid and the Whale," warring natural forces like his parents). For the most part, it is a harrowing but rewarding contemplation of the pain family members bring on each other.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the ways this family deals with pain and betrayal: how do the academic parents miss their sons' emotional strains? How do the father's high standards put pressure on his children? How might the kids (eventually) come together in their efforts to survive their difficult situation?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:October 7, 2005
DVD/Streaming release date:March 21, 2006
Cast:Jeff Daniels, Jesse Eisenberg, Laura Linney
Director:Noah Baumbach
Studio:Samuel Goldwyn Company
Run time:88 minutes
MPAA rating:R
MPAA explanation:for strong sexual content, graphic dialogue and language.

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Adult Written May 10, 2015


What other families should know
Great messages
Great role models
Teen, 15 years old Written byJustSun August 9, 2011

If you've been through a divorce, definately worth watching

Very good movie about a difficult topic. The very frank sexual discussions may make watching this uncomfortable for some.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Adult Written byBestPicture1996 February 14, 2014

A quirky examination of divorce

Springing from the mind of "Fantastic Mr. Fox" writer Noah Baumbach, I could definitely see the similarities in the deadpan style of his wit in both films, including the delivery, which brought many, many funny moments. It's not laugh out loud per say, but moments someone like me, who isn't part of a nuclear family like the one portrayed in the film, can relate to. Daniels is near greatness here in his role as Bernard, a man who loves his sons but has the uncanny ability to tell them what they like, and in a way make them become more like him. There are no weak players here, and while some moments may seem strange or disgusting, that's because life isn't like the movies: it's weird sometimes. "Squid and the Whale" felt honest and at times heartbreaking. Definitely for older teens.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing