I’ve quickly forgotten most of The Goldfinch, a surprisingly boring movie about traumatic loss that’s experienced by a young boy named Theo who carries that loss with him into adulthood. But I haven’t been able to shake the bespoke suits Theo (played as an adult by Ansel Elgort) wears religiously throughout. They’re impeccably sharp and tailor-fit for Elgort’s 6-foot-3 frame, topped with his perfectly coiffed hair and shiny round glasses. It’s also proper attire in his trade of selling pricey antiques, and a nice complement to the bougie NYC cafes and bars that he inhabits.
The reason behind Theo’s costume isn’t simply aesthetic, though; it’s about self-preservation. He dresses this way because of the aforementioned trauma in his life — a terrorist attack at a New York City art museum that leaves his mother dead and him buried in rubble. Essentially, the suits are impenetrable to grief and feeling.
As such, grief looks a lot different on Theo than it does on most other despondent dudes in movies. A good recent example is Sadboi Thor from Avengers: Endgame, who perfectly captures “the look” of being a sad man, across movies and IRL — baggy pants, disheveled hair all over his face, neck and head, sunglasses that hide his eyes, etc. While it’s a shame that the movie also uses this as an occasion to dunk on Thor for having gained weight, his grief is still relatable. If anything, it’s extra resonant to see a hammer-wielding god be felled by the same depressive states that beat the rest of us into slovenly submission.
Theo, on the other hand, more or less perfects his snazzy style as he gets sadder. As Elgort explained to Esquire, “I wore these bespoke suits, [and] I felt that [the] character [Theodore Decker] was taking over my life. I needed to remind myself that I was this colorful kid and not this dark, depressing guy. So I would wear this purple jacket from Canada Goose and Opening Ceremony. It was nice to put on my clothes at the end of the day and know I could go home and go to sleep as myself.”
All that said, the greatest sadboi style trend The Goldfinch bucks is Theo’s lack of facial hair. Because typically, men in movies sprout it to indicate that they’ve been through some big, devastating, soul-crushing thing. Need to show a man who has endured something greater than even the sharpest razor? Give him some stubble. Need to emphasize that he’s darker and more mature now? Give him a beard.
Ron Burgundy famously mocked this cliché in Anchorman, trudging through San Diego while self-destructively drinking milk that dribbles over his scraggly beard. And, of course, there’s Forrest Gump growing a big bushy beard after Jenny leaves him. Or Batman growing a beard in The Dark Knight Rises after his girlfriend dies, and he became a fugitive in The Dark Knight. It’s such a trope that it has two names — “beard of sorrow” and/or “grief beard” — and there are plenty of other examples of it across film, television, literature and more.
Elgort’s baby face, however, was practically crafted to challenge this notion, and we’re meant to recall Little Theo any time the camera gets close to him as an adult. We can vividly imagine how the time between now and then (i.e., the periods in which The Goldfinch doesn’t take place) mostly stood still and how Theo’s pain remained equally frozen.
It also vividly demonstrates how it’s probably healthier to be Sadboi Thor than Dapper Theo. Because at least Sadboi Thor (once he stops with all the drinking, pizza and video games, that is) attempts to work on the turmoil roiling inside of him instead of continuously polishing how he looks on the outside. Theo, meanwhile, doesn’t allow himself that necessary catharsis, as sharp of a dresser as he may be.
And that, no matter how bespoke his suits, is never a good look.