The Squid and the Whale Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
In the first scene of THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, the Berkman family plays a game of mixed doubles tennis. It’s more heated than it has to be, and at one point the father suggests his oldest son, his partner, aim for his mother’s weakness. One wonders if this is always how they’ve played or if this has been building. Either way, a certain time has come.
Bernard (Jeff Daniels, who earned his third Golden Globe nomination for his role) has been sleeping on the pullout sofa while his wife, Joan (Laura Linney, also earning a third Golden Globe nod), has maintained the bed. They have seen better days and one gets the sense that there was at some point or another a passionate bond over writing, a profession they have both taken up. That is gone, and Bernard only checks on Joan’s writing to see if she has taken his notes seriously.
They sit their sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg, who, like Daniels and Linney, earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination) and Frank (Owen Kline, in only his second credited performance), down and tell them. Walt raises a concern that certainly many children of divorced parents have: “How will you split the time equally?” Bernard lays out the days with math, but really what the boys picture as “equal” is both parents living at home with both sons.
While the divorce is central to the conflict, there is also serious disconnect between the parents and the children. Walt blames his mother and thinks of her as a lesser writer than her father while Frank finds his dad challenging every move and wishes to live with his mother. Each, the parents included, has a case in their own eyes.
There are always heels in a divorce. Some of the characters here can be perceived as such. Then, these don’t necessarily have to be likeable people—just as one example, Bernard is wildly arrogant, seeing himself as far more superior than any other teacher or tennis player other than McEnroe and Connors; undoubtedly he fancies himself more talented than his ex—but we do have to understand why the situation has occurred and why each character is making each subsequent move. This is clear and astutely developed in THE SQUID AND THE WHALE.
Baumbach is a talented writer and director, having proven that before THE SQUID AND THE WHALE with 1995’s KICKING AND SCREAMING and afterwards with 2010’s GREENBERG, 2012’s FRANCES HA and more. THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, which earned him an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay, is so far his finest, most human work.
Baumbach channels his own experiences to attain this. Additionally, he never takes a side. He steps back and allows the viewer to watch and listen, to make up their own minds on these people and their situations. This is a mature decision, one that comes not just from an adult filmmaker but a child of divorce. The hammering at the typewriter is clear and it is felt for the duration.
Video: 1.85:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. “Director Noah Baumbach and director of photography Robert Yeoman supervised and approved this new digital transfer, which was created in 4K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the Super 16 mm original A/B negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, and warps were manually removed using MTI Film’s DRS.”
THE SQUID AND THE WHALE looks excellent here, with crisp details and healthy colors that present the film faithfully and captures the mid-‘80s setting.
Audio: English 5.1 Surround. “The 5.1 surround soundtrack was remastered from the 35 mm original Dolby A magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD and iZotope RX.”
Dialogue is clean and the soundtrack (including Loudon Wainwright III, Lou Reed and more) comes through without flaw.
Noah Baumbach (27:40): Writer/director Baumbach discusses the origins, cast, production and more of THE SQUID AND THE WHALE.
Revisiting “The Squid and the Whale” (20:14): In this new documentary, stars Jesse Eisenberg, Owen Kline and Laura Linney reflect on the film, touching on how they came aboard, working with Baumbach and more.
Jeff Daniels (7:57): Daniels discusses the tone of the film, Baumbach’s talents and the roll THE SQUID AND THE WHALE had in his career.
Auditions: Included here are five pieces featuring Eisenberg, Kline and Halley Feiffer: Walt and Frank (3:10), “Do You Like Franz Kafka?” (3:17), “Not an Intellectual” (3:59), “Don’t Be Difficult” (2:42) and “I Know It’s Over” (7:31).
Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips (13:49): Baumbach sits down with composers Wareham and Phillips.
Behind “The Squid and the Whale” (9:57): This 2005 featurette includes on-set footage and cast interviews.
Also included with this Criterion Collection Blu-ray is a booklet featuring an essay by critic Kent Jones and a 2005 interview of Baumbach by novelist Jonathan Lethem.