Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Red Turtle

The Red Turtle is a relentlessly beautiful animated film. However, its beauty and craft sadly do not make it a great film. I had high hopes going in, excited that I might be seeing the best film of the year. But its narrative perspective was rather depressing and maddening for the choices it made. The story: a man is presumably shipwrecked and luckily finds himself on a small island. There is some food and water, but lacks all else, making his desire to leave understandable. He tries to leave twice, but each time his hand-crafted raft gets destroyed by something from underwater. The third time, he discovers a giant red turtle is determined to keeping him stranded. When the turtle foolishly climbs up on the beach, the man bashes a stick into the turtle’s head, then flips the turtle on its back to enable it to cruelly dry out, slowly into death, even as he jumps on the underbelly to add insult to injury. He then keeps tabs as the sun kills the animal, cracking its underbelly to signal the final death. The dead turtle then turns into a beautiful woman. The man somehow nurses her back to health, wins her heart, and they have a child. Apparently the turtle/woman is in love with the man – even after his extreme cruelty.

I can understand his anger at being prevented from fleeing the island. But the man is not very intelligent: in all three attempts to leave, he never brings fresh water or food with him. The red turtle actually saves him from a quick death on the water. The turtle/woman’s continued love for him after his cruelty was difficult to believe as the story proceeded. I expected eventual retribution, but it never comes. No clarity at all comes in the narrative and I was left with the lingering question of why the turtle wanted to be with this man. Yes, he expresses some regret, but it is through one, quick, slumping motion when he sees the beautiful, nice woman in front of him. This was way too little, way too late for me.

The turtle could have come out of the water a woman. The turtle could have transformed on the beach into a woman as she originally crawled up. The turtle could have been hurt and the man nursed her into health and then become a woman. Make up your own story – it will probably make more sense and be more satisfying.

And this is maddening, because the film is stunning in its technical skill, its color palettes, its naturalistic animation, and even its music (which showed the hand of Studio Ghibli more than any other element for me). The animators’ skills are clear. My favorite example is virtuosic, a scene showing the depth of water as it changed as the water neared the beach – in the sun – capturing light, depth, and color perfectly. There were many more such scenes. Yet, when combined with the narrative, even such skill and beauty becomes somewhat tedious. With little alignment between the animated natural beauty and the strangely unappealing narrative, the film disappoints.

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