The Goldfinch is a film inspired by the Pulitzer Prize winning novel with the same title by Donna Tartt. The title refers to a painting by Carel Fabritius, a Dutch painter from the 17th century. The painting has an unusual history because it is one of the few paintings by that artist that survived an explosion in the Dutch city of Delft. Fabritius, who was a talented student of Rembrandt, was killed by that blast.
Flash forward to modern times and the painting is witness to another explosion and more deaths. Theo Decker’s mother is killed during a bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City after admiring The Goldfinch. Theo is shell-shocked by the loss and steals the painting in the chaotic aftermath of the explosion.
Oakes Fegley plays the young Theo and the adult is played by Ansel Elgort. The actors showed clearly how Theo carried the pain of his mother’s death. Theo blames himself for her loss. Theo is quiet and introverted with thoughts that are full of regret. He comments that he is wearing a disguise that also might disguises himself from himself. As an adult, Theo’s disguise shows him impeccably dressed and always stoic and hard to read.
In Theo’s journey, he meets Boris who is a wild and anti-social boy that was a neighbor of Theo’s father. Boris is played by Finn Wolfhard as a youth and Aneurin Barnard as an adult. Theo’s loneliness and regret force him to find ways to escape. Boris’s wild irreverence and worldly-wise nature help him find that release. Alcohol plays a key role in the life of the adults around Theo’s life and Boris introduces him to pain killers and other drugs.
The film has a pattern of switching from young Theo to older Theo and back. The transitions are never confusing and help give the film some artistic merit. Theo reports that he is sad for being the cause of so much loss. He feels guilty and ashamed for the things he did. After failing to right those wrongs, he attempts suicide.
The tragedy of Theo’s life begins with his mother’s death in the explosion. While the stolen painting is a talisman against his loss, he doesn’t realize the irony of the Goldfinch’s prior experience with catastrophe. He suffers because he doesn’t ask for help to resolve his dilemma. However, he has had to be self-reliant because all of his important relationships blow up. Boris rejoins Theo as an adult and helps repatriate the painting to the world so that Theo has the possibility of being freed of its power.