Saturday, April 17, 2010

Fish Tank – Andrea Arnold (2009)

In the first few minutes of this film, all you can think is that you’ve just met the least likeable protagonist ever.

Mia is a teenage girl who runs around verbally abusing, sometimes physically assaulting people for no apparent reason.

At one point, she head-butts some girl on the street for not dancing well enough. I found that pretty amusing.

We have no idea whether or not she knows these people. Some of them could be total strangers.

We’re just thrown right into the thick of a typical afternoon sunny stroll of an unbelievably nasty girl. (I mean nasty as in mean to people, not the good kind of nasty.)

For a brief scene about five or six minutes into the film, I think the sequence might last 20 seconds if that, we see that she’s capable of empathy.

And then, just as quick, we’re back. If you looked down to answer a text, you missed it.

Granted, the pity she’s feeling is for a horse and not a fellow human being, but as horrible as she has been (and keep in mind this is after spending four or five minutes, tops with this girl) at least it’s a hint that she might have a soul.

Then, as the story moves forward, we see that her surroundings are as harsh as she is and that her cruelty is most likely a survival mechanism.

There is a scene that’s as suspenseful as in any thriller I’ve seen where her mom’s new boyfriend (two-night stand, really) picks her up and gently carries her to bed.

As he undresses her, I found myself thinking, ‘Oh god, am I watching another one of these movies? I just had to sit through Precious.’

But no, this guy seems to be a decent fellow just trying to get the kid comfortable. After folding her pants and putting her shoes away, he covers her with a blanket, tip-toes out the door and closes it.

After that, there’s a pitiful scene where this new father figure takes the family, out for a drive to see nature. They go out to a creek to catch fish and Mia gashes her foot badly.

The guy dresses her wound and as he carries her on his back, she rests her head on his neck and she has a peaceful and stunned look on her face.

It’s the first time we’ve seen Mia free of hostility.

And we realize with a pang that this is probably the first time in her short life that anybody has taken care of her.

Then, toward the end of the second act, the film takes an upsetting but hardly surprising turn south.

I had been hoping up until this point, despite the foreshadowing that it wouldn’t turn out the way it did.

Sadly, I was let down by the behavior of the characters in the film which I guess is a testament to how invested I had become in them.

I’m not going to spoil anything by getting into details, but in the third act, a bunch of things just suddenly make sense.

It happens quickly, like a snap.

The third act involves a couple of tense incidents where we’re on the precipice of some tragedy happening.

I caught myself holding my breath a couple of times.

Suddenly, the character study becomes a thriller of sorts, and I’m hesitant to use the word ‘thriller’ because it’s bound to give you the wrong idea.

Suffice it to say a couple of sequences have a sickening level of tension to them.

I’ve been asking myself one question: would I recommend other people see this film?

And my friends, you are about to witness a rare moment when my answer to that question is I really don’t know.

I am glad I saw this film and came to care about Mia, but I’m not sure if I would tell you that you should seek it out.

I suppose at the end, you’re happy for Mia because she seems to have at least gained some dignity.

And it’s pretty clear that she is in fact going to end up being a better person than her mother ever was, as evidenced by their goodbye.

The film seems to hold to the idea that one’s growth takes place exclusively during childhood and adolescence. Once you’re an adult, if you’re not a good person, it’s too late to change.

The scene where she says goodbye to her mother and the two of them just dance for a few seconds before Mia finally just leaves is oddly touching, considering Mia is leaving the home of a mother who actually hates her.

I kept thinking of The Breakfast Club where Ally Sheedy said, “It’s inevitable. When you grow up, your heart dies.”

The moving embrace Mia shares with her sister before hopping in a car to leave forever backs this notion up and serves as the emotional climax of the entire film.

The children are the ones who are capable of feeling loss or love or anything at all.

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