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Movie Review

After an explosion in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, young Theo Decker crawls to his feet and staggers through the crumbling building, its air filled with ash and smoke. He steps over the fallen figures, the empty shoes, the chunks of smashed wall and ceiling, looking for someone.

His mother is somewhere in this mess.

What he finds instead is the slumped figure of an old man whom Theo recognizes. The man had been talking about art earlier with a pretty red-haired girl about Theo's age when Theo and his mother were looking at a painting of a bird, one of his mom's favorites.

Now the young girl is nowhere to be seen. Just the old man, bleeding profusely from a gash above his eye and staring blankly forward. Theo squats down near the man, to see if he can help. But it seems too late for that.

"Take it," the man whispers, extending a quaking hand and a pointing finger. And there in the piled debris, Theo notices the bird picture, intact but frameless and partially covered with rubble. He tugs on it and looks back at the man questioningly. The man is suddenly much more animated. He nods in agreement and pulls off a garnet ring from his finger, pressing it into Theo’s palm. The man mumbles a name and clearly says, "Take it to him."

Was Theo supposed to take the ring? The painting? Something else? What? The man lists to the side. Then he burbles something indecipherable with the last of his breath and … he is gone.

Theo is suddenly alone again, crouching amid the debris and the dead. He looks at the painting in his hands. A small canvas containing the image of a tiny bird chained to its perch. Theo quickly tucks that precious little piece of art into his tattered backpack. And in that short, numb moment, "The Goldfinch" becomes a tangible piece of hope in the aftermath of something terrible and tragic.

No matter what happens from here—and without the anchor of his mother, things will get bad for Theo—“The Goldfinch” is something he can cling to.

And Theo Decker cannot, will not, let it go.

Positive Elements

Though Theo's life seems tragic, at times unmoored and filled with misery, several people earnestly try to help him: the Barbours (a family that temporarily takes him in) and an antique salesman named Hobart.

Mrs. Barbour is the mother of one of Theo's school friends, and she seems poised to adopt the abandoned boy before Theo's vagabond dad shows up to whisk him away for his own money-grubbing purposes. Hobart, it turns out, was the business partner of the dying old man at the museum. And when Theo takes the man's ring to him, Hobart is quick to offer Theo hospitality, and later, give him a home and teach him the antiques business.

Though we only see her briefly, Theo's mother was obviously kind and loving. "When I lost her," Theo tells us in narration, "I lost sight of any landmark that would have led me someplace better."

Theo also makes friends with a schoolmate named Boris, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ukraine. And though Boris introduces Theo to a number of foolish, destructive choices and betrays his trust at one point in their youth, Boris also helps an older Theo when he is at his lowest, saving Theo’s life. "Maybe something good can come from bad," Boris notes with his thick Ukrainian accent at one key moment. That redemptive sentiment ultimately frames the theme of Theo's story with hope as we see what he’s gained through his pain and struggles.

Spiritual Content

Theo dreams of his dead mom.

Sexual Content

We see an older Theo in bed with his fiancée, Kitsey (both dressed). Kitsey also wears a sweater-like top and short-shorts before bed in another scene. She passionately kisses another man even though she's engaged to Theo. As an adult, Theo also falls in love with a young woman named Pippa (the red-haired girl from the museum). But Theo soon learns that she has a live-in boyfriend.

A teen references oral sex. Theo's dad shows up with his cohabiting girlfriend. She generally wears low-cut, revealing outfits. And in one scene, she sunbathes in a very skimpy bikini. In fact, her swimming suit is so tiny and revealing that Boris openly lusts after her and talks of hooking up with her. We find out later that he actually did just that.

In the heat of their emotional moment of separation as teens, Boris nervously walks up to Theo and kisses him on the mouth before running away. Some could interpret this as a sexual overture, even though there is no other indication that Boris is gay.

Violent Content

The museum explosion is a terrorist attack. The blast hits Theo and others in slow motion, sending them flying across the gallery. And we see the legs of victims and blown-off articles of clothing as Theo staggers through the debris afterward, and we see the old, bleeding man whom Theo talks to. Outside the museum, some other survivors are lightly bloodied.

We see Pippa as a young girl, in bed after the attack. Her head is shaved on one side, and a large wound is stitched up. We're told that some of her fine motor functions are permanently impaired because of that injury.

Gang members get into a gun fight. Some men are wounded and others killed. Theo is forced to defend himself by picking up a gun and shooting a man in the chest. An older man gets punched brutally in the face.

Young Theo is roughly slapped in the face several times by his father when the boy doesn't instantly follow his dad’s commands. Boris is likewise attacked by his father. The older man hits the teen with a cane, and then punches and kicks him several times after he falls to the floor. We see Boris later with a black eye and a variety of facial bruises.

A small school boy is purposely pushed into a row of lockers. We're told of how a boy and his father died in a boating accident. And we hear that Theo's father got drunk and died in a car crash.

Crude or Profane Language

Some 20 f-words and a half dozen s-words join one or two uses each of "d--n," "h---" and "a--." God's and Jesus' names are misused five times combined (God being combined with "d--n" once). Two boys exchange crude hand gestures with each other.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Not long after the death of his mother, Mrs. Barbour offers Theo a prescription sedative to help him relax and get to sleep. Her offer is well meant, but it actually propels the boy down a path of drug abuse; Theo eventually gets to the point of crushing and snorting sedatives for quick effect. That habit continues into adulthood.

After Theo meets Boris, that habit intensifies. On numerous occasions, we see the adolescents drinking beer and vodka, as well as snorting crushed pills together. They find a bag of Vicodin hidden in Theo's dad's house, and they crush and snort the prescription painkiller. Boris even finds two hits of acid at one point; he and Theo share the potent hallucinogen, getting high on it. Years later, the two meet again (Boris is now, not surprisingly, a drug dealer), and they quickly start guzzling vodka and snorting cocaine.

When Theo first meets Pippa after the museum attack, she's in bed sucking on a lollipop that she says contains morphine. Theo gives it a lick to try it out.

Even though Theo's dad proclaims that he's a recovering alcoholic, he still drinks beer regularly. The man’s girlfriend is always drinking wine or some other adult beverage. Other people indulge mixed drinks at a bar. Boris says his dad drinks so much vodka that he can't feel his own feet.

Theo and Boris, and other school kids, smoke cigarettes. And Hobart rolls his own cigarettes to smoke, as well. Someone jokes about a "lush" relative drinking her own vomit.

One character prepares a large glass of vodka and lines up a bottle of prescription drugs, then ingests the toxic concoction in a suicide attempt. (That character is rescued at the last moment, and vomiting is induced to get the deadly cocktail out of his system.)

Other Negative Elements

Theo's father lies to and manipulates his son repeatedly for his own selfish pursuits—including trying to steal the boy's trust money.


Based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Goldfinch feels like something that deserves some considered attention—much like the Dutch Golden Age painting at its core. This deftly crafted film from director John Crowley flips back-and-forth through the pages of its young protagonist's life, dramatically unpacking its underlying themes of desperation and hope.

Ultimately, The Goldfinch weaves together its seemingly disparate story threads just like a good novel would. Along the way, it raises thoughtful questions about whether anything good can arise from the ashes of punishing destruction.

In printed form, that sort of story could be compelling indeed. But watching all of those punishing images flashed up on a screen is difficult. Physical abuse, heavy drinking and drug use, murder and attempted suicide are hard to stomach. And when you paint abused adolescents into that same troubling tableau, that’s doubly true.

This picture may be artful, but it's far too dark to really enjoy.

Be sure to read our review of the book connected to this movie: The Goldfinch.

Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range





Oakes Fegley as Young Theodore Decker; Ansel Elgort as Theodore Decker; Nicole Kidman as Mrs. Barbour; Jeffrey Wright as Hobie; Ashleigh Cummings as Pippa; Luke Wilson as Larry Decker; Finn Wolfhard as Young Boris


John Crowley ( )


Warner Bros.



Record Label



In Theaters

September 13, 2019

On Video

Year Published



Bob Hoose

Content Caution

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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