October 24, 2002

Independent Study

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Like many high school kids, my favorite book was recluse J.D. Salinger’s Catcher In The Rye. Much to my dismay, the book was never brought to film with minor exceptions of references to Salinger himself in Finding Forrester and Field of Dreams. Igby Goes Down is a movie with an uncanny connection to, arguably, the best book ever written. The story of an unmotivated boy dropping out of boarding school is fascinating. The movie adds elements that, looking back, Catcher could have used. Kieran Culkin, Macaulay’s little and more talented brother, plays Igby, a more modern and testy Holden Caulfield. Igby’s outspoken discontent with upper-crust society and occasional antics with drugs and alcohol take him from one boarding school to another. The various flashbacks and references to Igby’s past family life help construct his character. This makes him a more solidly developed and moldable protagonist than Catcher’s Caulfield. Through this, the viewer understands why Igby is in such a rut. Not only is he living in the shadow of his ask-no-questions, role-assuming big brother, but his mom is a gossipy, egotistical, and scandalous socialite that makes his broken down and befuddled father look perfectly happy in comparison.

The film feeds on family, something that Igby and many other characters have a distorted sense of — at best. Living at boarding schools, at a time when direction is critical, away from a home that provided little love leaves Igby in search of happiness, armed with a will not end up like his depressed and pressure-crushed father. Like the recently released black comedy The Royal Tenenbaums, an array of unique characters feed off of one another’s shortcomings through the most bizarre of interactions. Igby escapes a cab ride destined for another boarding school. He finds himself in New York City using his family’s bigwig connections to support a school-free education. The only thing on his agenda is figuring out what the hell he’s going to do with his life. Igby does this by curiously involving himself with a long list of character’s all somehow connected to his tactful yet deceiving godfather D.H., played to a tee by Jeff Goldblum. What makes the film so universally intriguing is that Igby seems to be innocently forced into this diversion. For anyone that has wondered what adolescence without education is, this is a film with your name on it. Though he can be seen as a punk in some obvious respects, Igby is without a doubt most deserving of compassion throughout the story. His smarts and cunning wit show that he is more than a dropout; he is a strong-willed youth on a quest.

The film is kept in constant top form by hilarious cynical humor, excellent character development, and sharp story turns. The playful nature of the film makes this ambitious adventure realistic and gives Igby qualities which make his growth noticeable and warranted. Igby’s struggle no doubt develops from a personal quarrel to, as the film repeatedly says, “the big picture.” Though the majority of us will have problems relating to such a high-profile family, the echoing element of finding one’s self amidst teenage angst is extremely identifiable. While Catcher In The Rye is an epic story, Igby Goes Down escapes Holden Caulfield’s one-dimensional view of the world and provides a more panoramic scope of family, school, friends, and freedom. Igby’s story is one of the best interpretations I’ve ever come across in regards to that most challenging time of life