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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Solution to stunted personal growth found in 'Puzzle,' with Kelly Macdonald and Irrfan Khan


Jigsaw puzzle fanatics might well chafe at lead character Agnes’s declaration in a key scene of Puzzle that putting them together is “a childish hobby for bored people.” By then, though, she herself has realized that her newfound obsession has become her means of self-awareness, exploration and empowerment.

For Agnes, a repressed housewife in working class Bridgeport who hasn’t been as far as New York City in years and has little use for the iPhone her youngest son gifts her for her birthday (“like carrying a little alien robot in your purse,” she tells him), has unboxed another gift--a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle tellingly picturing a map of the world that she’s heretofore shown scant interest in. Much to her surprise, she not only puts it together in a couple hours, but finds she likes doing it so much that she trains it to New York to buy more at the shop where it was purchased.

But at the store’s counter she portentously tears off the phone number of an anonymous notice posted by a champion puzzler desperately seeking a partner. Without telling her family, she then meets with the man at his apartment in the city after getting smudged on Ash Wednesday. It turns out that Robert, who answers the door, is a wealthy but lonely Indian man, an inventor living off a sole breakthrough discovery that he never followed up with another.

Robert’s former competition puzzle partner was his wife, who has left him.

Robert is played by the magnificent Indian actor Irrfan Khan, known in America for his roles in films including Life of Pi and Jurassic World. As much as puzzles have catalyzed personal growth in Agnes, she herself brings new life to Robert, who sees her as a godsend, the best puzzler he’s ever met--even though she doesn’t sort pieces by color (“the No. 1 rule of competitive puzzling,” he tells her, among other tried-and-true team strategies). And he surely knows she’s fibbing when she says she’s been puzzling for years.

But Agnes (Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald of Boardwalk Empire fame, also superb) is soon fibbing to her family, too.

Having never strayed far from her household routine of shopping, cleaning and cooking--and helping out with the invoices at her husband’s auto body parts shop (where their eldest son Ziggy works, but is miserable doing so), she suddenly tells them that she has to travel by train twice a week to aid an aunt who has a broken foot. The husband (admirably embodied by David Denham) eventually learns that the aunt does in fact have a broken foot, but that his wife isn’t going to see her twice a week.

But husband Louie, who says that fishing is his favorite thing in life and doesn’t think that cooking is a manly enough vocation for Ziggy when an emboldened Agnes takes her son’s side, has no recourse but to let Agnes play out her new obsessions--jigsaw puzzles, and one special jigsaw puzzler. And as the pieces fall in place, she learns that puzzling, like all hobbies, is not so much childish, but a means of self-expression and path to fulfillment.



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