It’s a pivotal scene in THE GOLDFINCH, an event that propels all of the action forward. And it’s not a spoiler, as it's shown in the trailers (and also is a major component of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book). And to do it wrong would mean to potentially ruin the story.
It’s an explosion. It takes place in an art gallery, and it all but decimates everything and everyone that happened to be in the path. One character survives the blast. His name is Theo (Oakes Fegley), and he emerges from the rubble with a very valuable piece of art, a painting of a goldfinch. And he commits to protecting it, to hiding it.
Director John Crowley and his cinematographer, Oscar® winner Roger Deakins, knew from the get-go that capturing the art gallery explosion was crucial to the success of their film adaptation of Donna Tartt’s book. During the Toronto International Film Festival, they opened up about their approach to the blast.
“You only see it as a memory really — [Theo’s] memory,” Deakins said. "I don't know if you've had a traumatic experience, but as a very young child, you kind of see things in details. You remember little things. You don't remember a big, action-movie wide shot of the whole event. You might remember something seemingly insignificant, but that personalizes it. And I think that’s what we were talking about before we did the details. … It's about Theo's memory. It's not about the event itself.”
Then, there is the execution. It’s a significant blast, covering the actors in tons of ash. Crowley and Deakins admitted that on the day of the shoot, they didn’t really know what they were going to get until they attempted it. And with an explosion, you can only attempt it once.
This explains part of the reason why Roger Deakins approached these scenes with one single camera, for very specific reasons.
“I think it's a matter of just concentration, you know, on that one thing,” Deakins explained. “You can only really have one shot on screen at a time. I think it just focuses you on that one moment. The whole thing about film, when you run film as a motion, it's all about that one moment. It's a precious, precious thing to capture that moment. I've always felt like that, really.”
For THE GOLDFINCH, that moment just happens to be a fiery one, and it motivates all of the characters on screen. How do they recover? Or do they recover? The mysteries can be answered now that the movie is at your local AMC theatre.
Starring Ansel Elgort, Oakes Fegley, Sarah Paulson, Luke Wilson, Jeffrey Wright and Nicole Kidman, THE GOLDFINCH is now playing, so grab your tickets while you can.