Why The Goldfinch (2019) Is Terrible

Why The Goldfinch (2019) Is Terrible

I vividly remember my reading experience with Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch. It was the summer of 2018. I had finished reading Tartt’s debut book, The Secret History, a few months prior and I was dying to find another book that thrilled me the same exact way that book did.

In those months between The Secret History and The Goldfinch, I would walk in and out of the aisles of Barnes and Noble. I’d scour the internet for another book that would fill the Secret History-shaped hole in my heart. When I found The Goldfinch, it was everything I wanted and more.

Published in 2013, The Goldfinch follows Theodore Decker, a young New Yorker whose mother is killed in a museum explosion. During the chaos following the explosion, Theo accidentally steals the Goldfinch painting, a real-world artwork created by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius.
We watch Theo as he ages into adulthood and painfully holds onto the painting because it reminds him of his mother.

I spent that peaceful summer diving into the emotional complexities and lethal flaws of the large cast of characters that make up The Goldfinch. The beautiful prose, the amazing symbolism, detail, and everything about The Goldfinch makes it the incredible work of literature that it is.

Tartt gained a large following after the novel’s success and this level of fame attracted filmmakers who wanted to make their own adaptation of the award-winning story.

When I heard about this, I was thrilled. When the first few trailers, interviews, and set photos were released I got even more excited. It’s safe to say that I became obsessed with every aspect of the film leading up to its fall release.

But then, unfortunately, it was released.

The 2019 adaptation of The Goldfinch is a lifeless, hollow, and frustratingly boring film that was inspired by such a beautiful and perfect novel.

I’m not even exaggerating when I say that it was painful to watch. I had to force myself to finish the entire thing. The cinematography was lazy.

The acting from some of the individuals in the movie, like Nicole Kidman, Aneurin Barnard, and Sarah Paulson were pretty good, but most of the actors in The Goldfinch were almost terrible. Most importantly, the director John Crowley failed to successfully adapt the plot of the book.

There are two types of stories: plot-driven stories and character-driven stories. Usually, a book or film is meant to be a perfect balance between the two, but sometimes creators decide to create something specifically plot-driven or character-driven. Tartt’s book is undoubtedly a character-driven epic.

When looking at all three of her books, that is the type of writer she is, and it is the type of stories she wishes to tell. It seems to me that Crowley and screenplay writer Peter Straughan either one did not understand this aspect of The Goldfinch.
Or two understood that it was a character-driven story but decided to make it a plot-driven story as a way to make it a more entertaining film for most audiences. This was a fatal mistake. Insider stated that The Goldfinch was 2019’s “biggest box office flop.” The Hollywood Reporter estimated that Warner Brothers and Amazon Studios lost up to 50 million dollars.

Now, I don’t mean to kick the creators while they’re down. From the numerous interviews and behind the scene videos I’ve seen, it seems to me that almost everyone involved in the film had a love for the original text.

So what went wrong? Why is The Goldfinch movie so terrible? Like I stated previously, the novel is less concerned with the plot and more interested in character. There are a seemingly infinite number of three-dimensional and intriguing characters in the book that makes you not care if nothing of importance has happened for over 200 pages.

The book forces us to watch Theo grow and mature over the course of 700 pages and witness every single consequence of his self-destructive behavior. The book takes its time. The movie, unfortunately, can’t and doesn’t attempt to.

The Goldfinch film is clear evidence that not every great book needs to be adapted to the big screen.