The Goldfinch Parent Guide
Weighed down by its two and a half hour runtime, non-stop anguish, and some very disturbing content, "The Goldfinch" fails to fly.
Parent Movie Review
Speaking of his mother’s tragic death, Theo Decker (Ansel Elgort) says, “Everything would have turned out better if she had lived. When I lost her, I lost sight of any landmark that could have led me someplace happier.”
Theo isn’t exaggerating. Happiness is in short supply in The Goldfinch, which begins with heartbreaking loss.Theo and his mother are visiting a museum when a bomb explodes, killing her and leaving Theo alone. Theo’s deadbeat dad is long gone, so he moves in with a friend’s family. He finds some measure of happiness with the Barbours, especially because Mrs. Barbour (Nicole Kidman) shares Theo’s fascination with antiques. Then Theo’s father (Luke Wilson) shows up, and moves him to Las Vegas, where he winds up in a house in the remote suburbs, depopulated by foreclosures.
But Theo isn’t completely alone. After the bombing, Theo stole a painting. Known as The Goldfinch, it is a picture of a bird chained to a feeder, and it has a storied past of survival against all odds. Wrapped in newsprint, carefully hidden, the painting becomes part of Theo’s life. “Everything,” says Theo, “is before and after. In the middle is the painting.”
One of the real ironies of this film is that, like the chained bird in the picture, the story doesn’t fly. Like the goldfinch, it feels shackled, weighed down by its two-and-a-half-hour runtime, non-stop anguish, and some very disturbing content. In fact, there is so much problematic content that it’s hard to know where to start, but parents will want to be aware that the movie features scenes of main characters smoking, drinking heavily and abusing drugs. Adults even give prescription drugs to children, without checking with a physician. And it gets worse – throughout the film, young teenagers drink alcohol, use hallucinogenic drugs, and crush and snort Vicodin to deal with the misery of their lives. They have lots to be miserable about: both teens have negligent and abusive fathers, with one being hit with a stick and the other being slapped in the face after his father tries to steal his education trust fund. Violence, while not a constant part of the movie, is central to the plot, with frequent flashbacks of the bombing, a scene involving firearms, and an attempted suicide. And the movie also has approximately 40 profanities, over half of which are sexual expletives. Clearly, thisis not a production suitable for teen viewers.
The Goldfinch does have some bright spots, although there are precious few in the plot, which only emerges from its unrelieved darkness in the final few minutes. The best part of the movie is definitely its cast, with special mention going to its child actors. Young actors can be hit and miss, but Oakes Fegley plays teen-aged Theo with absolute sincerity. Theo’s grief, uncertainty, confusion, and heartbreak play across Fegley’s expressive face with complete authenticity. Most of the rest of the cast are a joy to watch, even when the script occasionally hews too close to its source novel and provides dialogue that sounds like lines from a book instead of real conversation.
Sadly, even stellar acting can’t save The Goldfinch. The novel might have won the Pulitzer Prize, the painting might be a mesmerizing work of art, but the film is a depressing and somewhat plodding story that doesn’t rise to the level of its sources.Directed by John Crowley. Starring Ansel Elgort, Nicole Kidman, and Ashleigh Cummings.. Running time: 149 minutes. Theatrical release September 13, 2019. Updated April 6, 2020
Watch the trailer for The Goldfinch
Rating & Content Info
Why is The Goldfinch rated R? The Goldfinch is rated R by the MPAA for drug use and language.
Violence: A man scrubs blood off himself; we see blood dripping. A main character attempts to kill himself by swallowing pills with large amounts of vodka. We see the smoke of a bomb blast tear through a museum; this image is repeated as the boy sees it in dreams and flashbacks. A boy walks through the aftermath of the explosion. He sees dead bodies (no detail) and a man with blood on his face, who dies as they speak to each other. Boys push a smaller boy against a locker. A teenager hits the table and yells at his parents. One tween character grabs and pulls another to the ground. A man refers to two people being swept overboard at sea. There is mention made of a person being so drunk she falls out of a window and dies. A man beats his son with a stick. A man screams at his son and hits him in the face. A father yells loudly and throws things around his living room. We are told a man has died in a car accident in the desert: nothing is shown on screen. A teenager punches his friend. Men punch and push each other. Guns are drawn and fired. People are shot; little blood is shown. There is mention of a SWAT team storming a house.
Sexual Content: A teenager makes reference to a sexual act. There are a few scenes of a man and woman kissing. A man wakes up in bed with a woman; no sexual detail. A teenage boy kisses another teen on the lips. A teenage boy ogles a woman lounging in a bikini.
Profanity: There are approximately 40 uses of profanity in the movie, including 21 sexual expletives, two anatomical terms, eight scatological words, and nine terms of deity. Three mild profanities and some crude words are also used. Two boys make a sexual hand gesture.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Adults give a child unauthorized prescription medication for his nightmares and anxiety: they don’t take him to a doctor or get any other treatment first. A child shares her medicated lollipop with another child. A young teenager smokes in the school bathroom. A young man makes reference to his father’s alcoholism. An adult talks about his drinking problem: insists that since he’s “just” drinking beer he’s fine. Main characters of all ages smoke frequently throughout the movie. Main characters – adults and teenagers - drink alcohol alone and in social situations. They often drink to cope with pain or stress and sometimes drink to excess. Teenage boys abuse painkillers and hallucinogens, alone and in combination with alcohol. Sometimes they crush and snort pills. A main adult character uses illegal drugs as a way to cope with emotional strain.
Page last updated April 6, 2020
The Goldfinch Parents' Guide
The painting occupies a pivotal role in the story. But it’s more than just a plot device, it’s central to the movie’s theme. What do you think that theme is? Do you think it’s related to the history of the painting?
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This movie is an adaptation of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt which won the Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 2014.
Another novel based on art is Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It imagines the life of the young woman who posed for Vermeer’s famous painting. The book contains some mild sexual content so is only suitable for mature readers.
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