(And, to think I did not know this: Bill Murray was apparently supposed to play Bernard, but backed out to do Broken Flowers. For the thousandth time, if you're new here, note the damn title of this blog. Though I was not, like, the biggest Bill Murray fan before I watched Groundhog Day for a year, I have a tendency to obsess about people and places and ideas related to that film.)
A father who signs a copy of one of his novels for his son "Best Wishes," a student who writes a short story about her vagina, a son who over-emulates his father's pretensions, a son who masturbates in public places and leaves his semen on books in a library and on a girl's locker, a mother who... Actually aside from cheating on her ass of a husband, she's not that bad. She doesn't comment on how her son can do better than his current girlfriend, doesn't invite a 20-year-old student to live with her, doesn't try to fuck that student. "This is a great family, and I don't know why you're screwing it up," Walt tells Joan, and it's a quite deliberate attack, not at all true. And, I'm not even sure that he believes it. He has already proven to dislike his mother. (I explained a bit of that yesterday.)
But, what I want to talk about is animals... And peanuts. (Or cashews.) (Or pickles.)
(But, not groundhogs.)
The titular squid and whale are an exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. Walt recounts a story to his therapist about seeing that exhibit as a child... (He's talking about going there with his mother.)
We'd do things together. We'd look at the knight armor at the Met, the scary fish at the Natural History Museum. I was always afraid of the squid and the whale fighting. I could only look at it with my hands in front of my face.
When we'd get home, after my bath, she'd go through all the different things we saw that day at the museum. And...
And we'd get to the squid and the whale, and she'd describe it for me. Which was--
It was still scary. But, it was less scary.
Anyway, it was fun. It was fun hearing about it.
His therapist asks about where his father was.
I don't know exactly. He was...
He was downstairs, maybe. He didn't ever come to the museum.
The obvious metaphor is that Bernard and Joan are the squid and the whale. Forever fighting with one another, an exhibit there to frighten and damage Walt. Man and woman forever in conflict. Walt--Joan calls him "chicken." Frank, she calls "peanut." (Also "pickle" but I'm not sure that suggests anything that different than "peanut" does.The former seems an obvious commentary on how Walt is really weak-willed, soaking in his father's personality in place of having his own. The latter, aside from being a crooked reference maybe to the cashew Frank has up his nose through most of the film, suggests something small, insignificant.
While the climax of the story revolves around Frank's increasing consumption of alcohol as well as his not wanting to be around his father anymore after being left behind, Walt's storyline holds more weight. Given the numerous scenes of tennis or ping pong in the film, I think a good way to think about it is this: Frank is the ball being passed between Bernard and Joan, Walt is more like Bernard's racket... Until he isn't.
And the match goes on even after they separate, after they divorce.