“The Goldfinch” film, based on Donna Tartt’s novel of the same name, follows Theo Decker from the day his mother dies when he’s 13 to his young adulthood and the unrequited love, friendships, work and attempts at self-preservation that come along with it.
Tartt’s 796-page book isn’t a light read, by any means. Theo experiences nearly insurmountable trauma and loss throughout his story, but the one thing that remains by his side is a small painting, pulled from the rubble of the explosion that took his mother's life. The book and film are fictional, but “The Goldfinch,” the piece of art that serves as Theo’s security blanket, is very much real.
The 33.5 x 22.8-cm oil on panel painting, part of the Mauritshuis collection at the Royal Picture Gallery in the Netherlands, was completed in 1654 by Carel Fabritius, student of Rembrandt and influencer to Vermeer. Though the explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in “The Goldfinch” is fictional -- there has never been an explosion at the Met -- the idea isn’t a far cry from history. Fabritius himself was killed in an explosion, a freak accident from a gunpowder store, at 32 years old. “The Goldfinch” was one of only about a dozen of his paintings that survived him.
While first criticisms of “The Goldfinch” film denounced its length and cadence, let’s remember that firstly, condensing a nearly 800-page tome isn’t exactly short work, and secondly, the painting was simply used a device to move the story along; “The Goldfinch” is by and far a coming-of-age story.
The film, out Sept. 13, employs an all-star cast of Ansel Elgort, Finn Wolfhard, Luke Wilson, Nicole Kidman, Jeffrey Wright, Sarah Paulson and newcomer Oakes Fegley to drive Theo’s narrative from his pseudo foster home in New York City to rock bottom in Amsterdam. Along the way, a friendship crafted by mutual loneliness in Las Vegas and a forged sense of normalcy back in New York all have one thing in common: “The Goldfinch.”
If you were to follow Theo's footsteps, where would you land?
New York City
New York City’s art scene is nothing to scoff at, and there’s no more obvious place to start than the Met. Inside you’ll find Vermeer’s “Study of a Young Woman,” Monet’s “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies,” van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait with a Straw Hat” and Jackson Pollock’s “Autumn Rhythm: Number 30.” From there, move on to the Guggenheim Museum, the MoMA (van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” is there) and the Frick Collection, which hosted “The Goldfinch” when it was included in a traveling exhibition.
When Theo got back to New York after his inhospitable stint in Vegas, he showed up to the door of Hobart & Blackwell, an antique shop run by the gentle Hobie. Thus commenced Theo’s career in antique dealing, which gives us the perfect excuse to go thrifting in the city. Try Furnish Green, White Trash or The Demolition Depot.
Much to his chagrin, Theo gets picked up from his cushy life with the Barbers by his estranged father. The two of them, plus his father’s live-in girlfriend, Xandra (yep, with an X), head to their home in Las Vegas. Their residential street is so isolated, though, that the surrounding homes have been abandoned or foreclosed on. If traveling to Vegas through the eyes of “The Goldfinch,” though, don’t stop in a ragtag neighborhood development.
Hang out off the strip in downtown Vegas, resplendent with Old West vibes and souvenirs from a past time. You can gamble (without the crowds) at places like the Golden Nugget and hang out at the Fremont Street Experience. Highlights include the SlotZilla Zipline and the Neon Museum which hosts old neon signs from the strip. For food, hit up La Comida for Mexican fare and a neon monkey or Park on Fremont for avocado toast al fresco, then move on to the Mob Museum (self-explanatory) or Container Park (a mall made entirely from shipping containers).
Theo’s time spent in Amsterdam was brutal, to say the least. He shows up with long-lost friend Boris to retrieve “The Goldfinch” in a thrown-together 10 minutes of film that some viewers thought rushed (which I can’t disagree with, though, again, the action wasn’t the point of this story). After a botched holdup, Theo locks himself in a hotel room rife with self-loathing, gets rescued by Boris and, finally, learns that the painting is, indeed, safe. Don’t limit yourself to a hotel room in Amsterdam, though, no matter how immaculate.
First, go an hour outside Amsterdam to see “The Goldfinch” yourself! The Mauritshuis collection is located in The Hague, the capital city of South Holland. While there, you can pay a visit to Huis ten Bosch palace, the home of the Dutch royal family, or wander its coastal streets and high-end boutiques.
Back in Amsterdam, grab a bike for the day -- it may take you a bit of practice, but it really is the best way to get in touch with the city, just like the locals do. You could spend your entire time in Amsterdam simply wandering the sidewalks and canals, but you’ll want to make a few specific stops. Since we’re on the theme of art, try out the van Gogh Museum, rife with landscapes and portraits by the Dutch impressionist. You can also visit the Rembrandt House Museum, whose whimsical exterior decoration is enough of a temptation to go inside.
After that, don’t miss the Anne Frank House -- but get in line early! -- and when the lights go down, find yourself a sultry burlesque show to see in the Red Light District.
With all these travel plans secured, you’ll have more than enough time to read “The Goldfinch” in between flights and trains. Otherwise, be sure to catch the film, in theaters Sept. 13.