“The Goldfinch” is both terrible and excellent

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“The Goldfinch” is both terrible and excellent

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On Thursday September 19, just five days after the premiere of “The Goldfinch,” based off of Donna Tartt’s pulitzer prize winning novel, there were exactly seven people watching it in the Georgetown AMC theater. One left about twenty minutes into the (two and a half hours long) film, an approach we respect, but ultimately do not agree with. Yes, the movie is disjointed, drawn out at the beginning and entirely too rushed at the end, but also consider: the book was good and we desperately want to like the film. 

Ansel Elgort’s performance has been widely criticized by reviewers, but the film hinges on his near-perfect portrayal of Theo Decker, a traumatized young boy who grows into a man without really noticing, all the while harboring a terrible secret and a distinct sensation that he has fooled everyone around him without trying. 

“The Goldfinch” as a novel was astounding, gripping, and intricate due to Tartt’s distinct writing—no one quite demonstrates the chilling passion of the seemingly mundane art world quite like her long, turbulent passages. The attention to detail that made her novel such a powerhouse is not necessarily missing from the film, it’s just lacking the powerful narration of Theo’s voice, first as a young boy terrified of his past and his impulses, and later on as a man completely defined by the fact that he feels like an imposter in his own life. Despite the director, John Crowley, saying that the film would not be focusing on the relationship between Theo and his childhood friend, Boris, the film managed to portray a complex relationship between two men overwhelmed with their own situations and feelings for each other. However, this plotline was watered down significantly from the book. 

The book was written chronologically, starting with the death of Theo’s mother and following him from childhood to adulthood. The movie, however, has a completely non-linear structure, jumping back and forth between moments in his life. Though this structure can highlight character growth, in “The Goldfinch,” it just makes the plot convoluted. Despite having read the book, we found ourselves confused at many points. 

Donna Tartt’s beautiful writing brought all of the supporting characters in the book to life, but in the movie, these characters were shockingly one-dimensional. From Theo’s stepmother, who is portrayed as a stereotypical sleazy girlfriend, to his best friend Boris, who’s attempt at a Russian accent was comedic, the movie lacks everything that made the book compelling.