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The Squid and the Whale is a thoughtful examination of adolescence

Adolescence wasn&

t invented until the 1940s; before that, young people were children and then adults. Life was comparatively short-lived and there wasn&

t time for a what we now think of as a period of prolonged adolescent angst when &

teenagers,&

supported by their parents, take five or six years to contemplate what might be called the four corners of youth: physical and hormonal changes, which occur with a startling suddenness; the intensity of budding sexuality; the shift of loyalties to the peer group; and the ever-changing tensions with family, brought about by a concerted search for independence.

Psychologists have come to refer to this period as a time of sturm und drang, or storm and stress. As well, in our tribe there are few rites of passage that signal to young persons that they are now ready to take their place in adult society (a driver&

s license seems a bit lame). There are no ceremonies, no vision quest, no scarification. Hence, many young people cast about for direction, wish for a compass, long for symbolism, and often find that the significant adults in their lives are so deeply flawed as to be of little help. Or so they are judged.

It is a time that has been memorialized in literature, starting with the iconic novel by J.D. Salinger, &

The Catcher in the Rye.&

Its protagonist, Holden Caufield, was everyadolescent, and his search for authenticity, for himself and his place in the world, a journey that is now regarded as universal. The youthful quest for identity, for a sense of oneself, resonates because it is such familiar ground to all of us.

Add to the mix divorce, wherein a family that once seemed relatively cohesive begins to come apart, and you have a formula for dysfunction.

&

The Squid and the Whale,&

a small indie film written and directed by Noah Baumach, captures such a moment with perfect pitch for language and emotion. The Berkman family, living in Brooklyn during the 1980s, is clearly coming apart at the seams. The threads that once held them together are failing and so the parents, Bernard (Jeff Daniels) and Joan (Laura Linney), sit their two sons, Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and Frank (Owen Kline), down and explain that they are going to separate. The boys are turned into nomads, moving back and forth between what they regard as their home and Bernard&

s house, a ragged, paint-peeling place that is as spare as a monastery. As one of Walt&

s friends says, &

Joint-custody blows.&

What the film captures so well, due in great part to the fine writing of Baumbach and the fine performances by the ensemble of actors, led by Daniels, is how adolescent feelings of being unexpectedly cast adrift are only compounded by the changes parents go through as they navigate a separation. Sixteen-year-old Walt, who is at the center of the narrative, quickly takes sides: He idolizes and idealizes his father and judges his mother ever more harshly. What he is confronted with are the not only his own foibles, but those of his parents, most especially the stunning narcissism of Bernard, a man who places himself at the center of the universe and is surprised when those around him push back. It is in coming to terms not only with himself but with his family that Walt inches ever so painfully toward maturity.

Some might argue that in adolescence we live more intensely than any other time in our lives. Adolescent memories are often unforgettable, haunting our later years with images that are filtered through a scrim of sentimentality and longing and regret. And so it isn&

t surprising that Hollywood would use repeatedly the template of adolescence as a subject. But few films about young people manage to possess the ring of truth. &

The Squid and the Whale&

is clearly the exception.

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