Friday, May 28, 2010

Recurrence is the Movie: The Films of Noah Baumbach

The following is a list of recurrent themes and details in the three most recent films by Noah Baumbach. There are spoilers for all three films.

-The Family Pet as a driving force in the story

The Squid and the Whale
, the family cat's oscillation between the divorced parents' residencies causes the two characters to keep meeting, keep talking, providing a look at the dynamic, reasons for the divorce, reasons they were a couple in the first place. The cat running out of the house at the end of the film is what causes Bernard to run outside, possibly inducing the heart attack he suffers.

Margot at the Wedding, the family dog Wizard disappears near the begging of the second act, which causes fights both familial and neighborly, its return ends the second act.

Greenberg The Greenberg family dog Mahler is the most central role for a pet in Baumbach's films, is important for humanizing Roger, and brings he and Florence, his love interest, back together over and over again even when complications in the relationship arise.

-The name Greenberg

Walt's girlfriend Sophie Greenberg (Halley Feiffer) in The Squid and the Whale, Roger Greenberg in Greenberg

-A dead animal in a pool

Margot at the Wedding Claude sees a dead mouse at the bottom of the pool after he falls in

Greenberg The party stops as 20 somethings gather around a dead animal, the young people are playful, laugh about it, Roger is freaked out, can't look at it. The young people are callous and unknowing of their own mortality. Roger is obsessed and terrified by aging and death, and the confrontation with the animal's corpse is a strong physicalization of those fears.

-Karen Dalton

The vagabond songstress accompanies Margot at the Wedding's closing credits crawl, and she is mentioned explicitly in Greenberg when Roger puts it on a mix for Florence.

-Childlike, sexual, anal obsessed profanity

The Squid and the Whale Frank's father-aping outbursts "Suck my dick, ass man!"

Margot at the Wedding Claude shouting at his mother "You shit in your shoes and then you fuck them!"

Greenberg Roger shouting at his best friend "Sit on my dick asshole!"


The Squid and the Whale Frank's burgeoning, supremely confused sexuality is manifested in his public masturbation, and spreading of semen around school.

Margot at the Wedding Margot upon arriving at her childhood home masturbates in her bed, Claude tells his mother near the end of the film that he masturbated in their hotel room after everyone went to sleep.

-The actress Halley Feiffer as an object of lust, agent of sexual discovery

The Squid and the Whale Walt's first real girlfriend, first sexual experience

Margot at the Wedding Claude stares at her chest, is aroused by contact with her. Malcom gazes at her, kisses her, cheating on his fiance.

-Small objects getting lodged in orifices, staying there for most of the film

The Squid and the Whale Early in the film Frank shoves a cashew up his nose, late in the film it comes out.

Margot at the Wedding Early in the film Margot gets a fly stuck inside her ear. Near the end she is still struggling to get it out.

-Last minute decisions as ends for the film

The Squid and the Whale Walt dashes out of the hospital to go confront the titular exhibit and confront his fears.

Margot at the Wedding Margot decides to chase after, wave down, and get on the bus she just put her son on.

Greenberg Roger has a panic attack in the back of his niece's car on the way to the airport and Australia, decides to get out to go take care of Florence, stop running.

-Characters not being able to swim/water as baptism

The Squid and the Whale Walt dips his head in a pond in Central Park, recalls fond memories of bath time with his Mother.

Margot at the Wedding Claude (deliberately?) falls into the pool, not knowing how to swim.

Greenberg Roger slowly enters his brother's pool, doggy paddling across with great difficulty.


The Squid and the Whale
Walt at the talent show, the stolen song.

Margot at the Wedding Claude sings Blondie into a tape recorder in private.

Greenberg Florence sings at an open mic night.

-The name Ivan

Ivan the Tennis Pro in The Squid and the Whale, the title character's former best friend in Greenberg.

-Personifying animals

Baumbach's New Yorker short story Mouse au Vin contains this line "I thought Louis was me today. Mice are so weird. They’re like humans in rodent costumes." In Greenberg Florence says she sometimes thinks the dog Mahler is really a "human in a dog costume."