Loss, duality, guilt, art, preservation and atonement. These themes make up “The Goldfinch,” a film centered around Theodore Decker, a 13-year-old boy who lost his mother in a tragic terrorist bombing at an art gallery. Decker is portrayed by two actors — Oakes Fegley and Ansel Elgort — because the film takes place in the past and present.
Fegley’s portrayal of Decker is earnest, and showcases a talent well beyond his years. One can’t help but get sucked into the film’s events by his emotional acting alone. Fegley brings a believable pain seen through the eyes of a child, while also brilliantly exhibiting adult-like intelligence.
Though he performs alongside veteran actors, like Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Wright, young Decker’s trauma and search for a safe home while keeping a massive secret drives the story. This secret causes him to fracture mentally and emotionally, beautifully portrayed by Fegley and Elgort.
Elgort gives one of the more vulnerable performances of his career when he plays adult Decker living as what most would call a successful adulthood, despite everything he went through. But, under the charming smile lies a man drowning under pressure from hiding past sins and survivor’s guilt.
It isn’t until the film’s climax, when he reunites with his childhood friend Boris, played by Finn Wolfhard and Aneurin Barnard, that the truth finally comes to a head: Decker faces himself and his loss and sets things right, even if it takes him across the world.
The film’s themes, while somewhat shown in the script, are also portrayed in the cinematography and set designs. Art is present not only in pieces complementing a background, but in set design and the occasional wardrobe choice. Most camera framing and movements make viewers feel as if they are walking through a gallery of Decker’s tragic life story.
At times, certain editing choices give the impression of disjointed moments resulting in a feeling of lost time. However, they could have reflected the effects of drugs Decker turns to in times of stress. The film did not earn many positive reviews upon its release, which is understandable. The drama in the film’s first half has a “start and stop” feel that causes a slow burn. Plus, there are scenes some viewers might find triggering, particularly scenes depicting a bombing, the abuse of minors and constant drug use.
If character-driven dramas are not your cup of tea, don’t bore yourself. However, if you don’t mind watching a character struggle like a bird trapped in a cage, then go ahead and treat yourself to “The Goldfinch.”