The Squid and the Whale
Noah Baumbach, 2005

#6, 2005 Skandies

So I was thinking about what to say about this one. Phrases like "moderately spiky and well-observed" seemed like good candidates to appear in my eventual writeup. But about two-thirds of the way through it occurred to me that, no, probably the important thing to note was that I was coming up with these phrases in part to distract myself from the fact that I was swimming in apprehension.

The Squid and the Whale is about a family going through a divorce. The parents are both authors, the father's career on the way down, the mother's career on the way up. They have two sons, one in high school and one in middle school. The boys start acting out, partly because of the divorce and partly because they're adolescents and so acting out is kind of their job. Now, when this movie was playing in theaters, I was busy moving from Massachusetts to California after being given the boot by Jennifer. Not a formal divorce, but after six years, pretty close to it. It was tough. But, well, I'm in my 30s now, the emotional centers of my brain are no longer turbocharged, and I got over it. No lasting scars so far as I'm aware. But The Squid and the Whale is a reminder that having kids means committing to several decades of responsibility for creatures who are not yet so resilient. They will tweak out about family problems that you find relatively bearable, and such episodes might permanently warp them — the film suggests that while the older kid will have some angst but otherwise be all right, the younger one has some serious problems. This shouldn't really be a huge revelation given that my own parents divorced around the time that I was the age of the protagonist of this movie, but there are a couple of key differences: one, because I had skipped grades I was already out of the house, and two, from the time I was a very small child I knew that my parents were preposterously mismatched and that their marriage was a sham. Since I never had a stable two-parent family I don't know what it's like to have that stability taken away. I also find it hard to imagine a marriage that doesn't end in divorce, which makes me wonder whether it isn't cruel to have kids knowing they're liable to be subjected to one.

These issues would be less worrisome if I were actively involved in raising kids (ie, too late to worry about it now) or if I had no prospect of having any in the foreseeable future. Instead I am in a relationship that seems as though it might have a future, but whether that is really the case I won't be able to find out until like 2010 or 2011, which now that I type it out like that strikes me as a pretty fucked up situation. And so what does that leave me to do in the meantime? Obsess.

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