The Toronto Film Festival is an exciting part of the film world’s calendar year, as plenty of new movies and Oscar hopefuls make their debut each year. Plenty of amazing filmmaking talent made their way to TIFF 2019, and John Crowley’s The Goldfinch is certainly no exception. Based off the best-selling novel of the same name, Crowley’s drama follows the life of Theo Decker, in the wake of a bombing that kills his mother and sends his life into chaos. The movie follows Theo are two different ages, with a pair of actors sharing the role.
John Crowley had an interesting challenge in adapting The Goldfinch for film, especially when it comes to the movie’s non-linear storytelling. While Donna Tartt’s 2013 novel told the story chronologically, Crowley constantly pivots between the two timelines, slowly unravelling Theo’s long and sordid history in the process. I recently spoke to the director at TIFF, where he explained this choice. Check out his explanation below.
Well, that’s quite the explanation. It seems that using two distinct timelines allows The Goldfinch to have a more cinematic quality. Additionally, it gave context to Theo’s actions in the present, once his past was revealed.
As John Crowley explained to me in the above video, he approached The Goldfinch‘s nonlinear storytelling first from the writing perspective. Peter Straughan wrote the screenplay, and needed to be specific about how each timeline was used in the upcoming drama. Adult Theo (Baby Driver‘s Ansel Elgort) doesn’t make his debut until the second act of the movie’s runtime, allowing the audience to truly understand who he was as a young man at the time of his mother’s death. But while the movie gives the adult version its full attention after wrapping up his childhood story, The Goldfinch continues to tell both stories until its very last frame.
In addition to the writing process, John Crowley specifically mentioned the editing process for The Goldfinch, and how that factored into splitting the film’s run between two time periods. The film adaptation had to be careful about its runtime, which comes in at a fairly long 149 minutes. Each timeline was used methodically, to portray Theo’s emotional landscape throughout his life, and how that effected his choices over the years.
Young Theo is played by Pete’s Dragon star Oakes Fegley, who is the original protagonist of The Goldfinch. The movie picks up shortly after Theo survives a horrifying bombing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an attack which kills his mother. The trauma and guilt of this event dictates Theo’s choices throughout his life. It also sends his life careening, as he makes his way to various temporary homes.
The non-linear narrative allows adult Theo to constantly reflect upon his traumatic childhood, especially the bombing itself. Details about the protagonist’s life and motivations are slowly peeled away by this form of storytelling, although John Crowley and crew had to be very specific about how they balanced both timelines that The Goldfinch follows.