Since Donna Tartt’s best-selling novel The Goldfinch (Little Brown & Co.) won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, no one has been able to forget it. Now, it is migrating to the big screen with an adaptation by John Crowley, which opens Sept.13.
This is an ambitious undertaking. How can 784 pages worth of words, events and characters be squeezed into a two-hour movie? To create a smooth whole, the camera follows the fate of a small painting of a goldfinch tied to its feeder. The chain is as fine and delicate as the thread of both the novel and the movie.
As the novel opens, Theo Decker is in Amsterdam, sick and stranded in a hotel. He dreams of his mother who died in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum in New York when he was 13.
Theo and his mother were admiring the painting The Goldfinch created by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius in 1654. Then the blast rips through. In the aftermath, surrounded by rubble, a dying man gives Theo a ring he begs to be delivered to an antique shop in Greenwich Village. As Theo stumbles from the museum, he picks up the painting from the floor and carries it with him.
In shock and overcome by grief, Theo clings to the painting as he longs for his mother. He lives for a time with a wealthy family on Park Avenue. He delivers the ring to the antique shop, and meets a master craftsman and the little girl who also survived the museum bombing. Soon Theo’s deadbeat father reappears and takes him to live in Las Vegas. Here, Theo becomes friends with a world-wise little hoodlum named Boris. Returning to New York years later, Theo begins working in the antique shop and becomes involved with an art forger who knows his secret.
In her New York Times review, Michiko Kakutani noted the novel’s Dickensian tropes, and the story hits all the high notes of drama. Loss, grief, obsession, addiction, sin, redemption and love. The film’s cast is up to the task.
The film stars Ansel Elgort (“Baby Driver”) as Theo, and Academy Award winner Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour, the wealthy Upper East Side socialite who cares for Theo after his mother dies. Luke Wilson (“The Royal Tenenbaums”) plays Theo’s dad, Larry; Sarah Paulson plays Xandra, Larry’s prostitute girlfriend. Jeffrey Wright is Hobie, the antique shop’s co-owner and Theo’s mentor. Ashleigh Cummings (“NOS4A2”) is Pippa, Theo’s love interest; Aneurin Barnard (“Dunkirk”) is Boris. Oakes Fegley (“Pete’s Dragon”) is the young Theo; Finn Wolfhard (“Stranger Things”) is young Boris.
The Goldfinch was named an Amazon Best Book of the Year in 2013, shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, and won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction. New York Times Book Review editors named it one of 2013’s 10 best books. Tart previously authored The Secret History and The Little Friend. One hopes she’s hard at work on something new.