The Squid and the Whale

The Squid and the Whale Information

The Squid and the Whale is a 2005 American drama film written and directed by Noah Baumbach and produced by Wes Anderson. It tells the semi-autobiographical story of two boys in Brooklyn dealing with their parents' divorce in the 1980s. The film is named after the giant squid and sperm whale diorama housed at the American Museum of Natural History, which is seen in the film. The film was shot on Super 16mm, mostly using a handheld camera.

The Squid and the Whale was a critical success. At the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, the film won awards for best dramatic direction and screenwriting, and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. Baumbach later received an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay. The film received six Independent Spirit Award nominations and three Golden Globe nominations. The New York Film Critics Circle, Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Board of Review voted its screenplay the year's best.

Plot summary

Bernard Berkman (Jeff Daniels) is an arrogant once-promising novelist whose career has gone into a slow decline as he spends more time teaching and less time writing. His wife, Joan (Laura Linney), has recently begun publishing her own work to widespread acclaim, which only increases the growing tension between them. One day, Bernard and Joan's two sons, 16-year-old Walt (Jesse Eisenberg) and 12-year-old Frank (Owen Kline), are told that their parents are separating, with Bernard renting a house on the other side of Prospect Park from their home in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

As the parents set up a schedule for spending time with their children, Walt and Frank can hardly imagine that things could get more combative between their parents. They do, however, as Joan begins dating Ivan (William Baldwin), Frank's tennis instructor, and Bernard starts sharing his new house with Lili (Anna Paquin), one of his students. Meanwhile, the two boys begin taking sides in the battle between their parents, with Walt taking after his father and Frank siding with his mother.

Along with the trouble both boys exhibit verbally with their parents, they also show internal struggles and very different ways of handling the stress of their parents' divorce. Walt's most obvious cry for help is when he performs and claims to have written "Hey You" by Pink Floyd at his school's talent show. After Walt wins first place and receives praise from his family and friends, his school realizes that he did not write the song. At this point, the school calls Bernard and Joan in to discuss Walt's issues, which are mainly fabricating his accomplishments. It is decided that Walt should meet with a school psychologist. Meanwhile, Frank exhibits his own internal turmoil by repeatedly masturbating at school. He also begins to frequently drink beer.

It is during the meeting with the psychologist that Walt finally starts to see things more objectively, without the taint of his father's opinions. The psychologist asks Walt about his childhood memories and it becomes clear to Walt that his father was never really present, and that his mother was the one whom he remembers caring for him. His fondest childhood memory is when his mother would take him to see the giant squid and whale exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History; the exhibit scared him as a small child so he would often close his eyes whenever they went by the exhibit at the museum.

After a heated argument between Bernard and Joan over custody, Bernard collapses on the street outside their home and is taken to the hospital. Bernard asks for Walt to stay by his side, but Walt instead runs to visit the squid and whale. The film concludes with him pondering over the exhibit and his past.



The Squid and the Whale was met with near-universal critical acclaim. It scored 82 out of 100 on Metacritic according to 37 critics and 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

On an episode of Ebert & Roeper, both critics praised the film and gave it a "two thumbs up" rating. Premiere critic Glenn Kenny praised the film, writing, "It's a rare film that can be convincingly tender, bitterly funny, and ruthlessly cutting over the course of fewer than 90 minutes. The Squid and the Whale not only manages this, it also contains moments that sock you with all three qualities at the same time." Time critic Richard Corliss wrote, "The Squid and the Whale is domestic tragedy recollected as comedy: a film whose catalog of deceits and embarrassments, and of love pratfalling over itself, makes it as (excruciatingly) painful as it is (exhilaratingly) funny."

The English Indie folk band Noah and the Whale takes its name from a combination of the director's name (Noah Baumbach) and the film's title.

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay
  • Won awards for best dramatic direction and screenwriting at the Sundance Film Festival
  • Six Independent Spirit Award nominations. Best Feature, Best Director (Baumbach), Best Screenplay (Baumbach), Best Supporting Male (Jesse Eisenberg), Best Female Lead (Laura Linney) and Best Male Lead (Jeff Daniels)
  • Four Chlotrudis Award nominations (Best Ensemble Cast, Best Original Screenplay for Noah Baumbach, Best Supporting Actor for Jesse Eisenberg) and one win for Jeff Daniels for Best Supporting Actor
  • Three Golden Globe nominations (Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy, Jeff Daniels for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Laura Linney for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy)
  • Won Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Screenplay
  • Awarded Best Screenplay by the National Board of Review
  • Won New York Film Critics Circle award for Best Screenplay
  • Won Best Screenplay and Best Actress (Laura Linney) at the 2005 Toronto Film Critics Association Awards
  • Nominated for the Grand Prix of the Belgian Syndicate of Cinema Critics

Home media

The film was released on DVD on March 21, 2006 by Sony Pictures. The DVD includes a 45-minute commentary with director Noah Baumbach, another 40-minute commentary with Baumbach and Phillip Lopate, cast interviews, and trailers.


The soundtrack features two songs by Loudon Wainwright III and one by Kate and Anna McGarrigle. It reuses Tangerine Dream's "Love on a Real Train", from Risky Business, for the scenes of Frank's sexual awakenings. Other contemporary popular music is played in the background of scenes, such as The Cars' "Drive" and Bryan Adams' "One Night Love Affair". "Figure Eight", from Schoolhouse Rock, is used as both an instrumental and a vocal.

Pink Floyd's "Hey You" is heard several times in the movie, since it plays a role in the plot and is cited by Walt as capturing his emotional state. Both the original version, and diegetic performances by Jesse Eisenberg and Owen Kline, are used. Baumbach originally wanted to use The Who's "Behind Blue Eyes" instead but he could not secure the rights.

Track listing
  1. "Park Slope" - Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham
  2. "Courting Blues" - Bert Jansch
  3. "Holland Tunnel" - John Phillips
  4. "Lullaby" - Loudon Wainwright III
  5. "Heart Like a Wheel" - Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  6. "The Bright New Year" - Bert Jansch
  7. "Drive" - The Cars
  8. "Let's Go" - The Feelies
  9. "Figure Eight" - Blossom Dearie
  10. "Come Sing Me a Happy Song to Prove We All Can Get Along the Lumpy, Bumpy, Long & Dusty Road" - Bert Jansch
  11. "Hey You " - Pink Floyd (Performed by Dean Wareham)
  12. "Family Conference" - Britta Phillips & Dean Wareham
  13. "Street Hassle" - Lou Reed
  14. "The Swimming Song" - Loudon Wainwright III

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