Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch team-up to produce Michaël Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle, a dialogue-less animated feature about a man trapped on a desert island after getting lost in a storm. Lee reviews.
Mortality happens despite ourselves; at least, as far as The Red Turtle is concerned. Rage against the ocean of your discontent with this thought and, in some form, the ocean will rage back and, very likely, overpower you. From the outset of the story, our protagonist has no control and by the end finds little resolve on that front; yet you couldn’t say the story doesn’t move forward – just that the focus has changed.
Nor could you say that the intention to highlight that crucial defeat wasn’t part of the intention of the film, even if the viewer definition of such will change depending on who you ask. For some, it could be a film about finding peace with starting a family, or about warring against depression, or an exploration of the people who can and cannot find a place in society while reflecting the pros and cons of both through the lack of concrete imagery. Or it could be about a guy and turtle, which, as base as it sounds, really isn’t that much further from the truth.
What at first seems potentially dangerous about the film is exactly that lack of specificity however, which coupled with a glacial initial pace and a continually shifting goal line raise the possibility The Red Turtle will lose viewer interest. The trick however is the use of simple humour to guide you through the set-up of early scenes that, without the full picture, can seem meaningless and incongruent. By movie’s end however, the jigsaw pieces have all been placed out and now it’s just a matter of the viewer putting the final image together.
The Red Turtle achieves exactly what it aims to and pulls you along effortlessly as it does so. Kids and general viewers will likely appreciate its charm and, at the least, can relay how strange it was to see a feature animation without speech; more likely, they will be affected enough by the resolve to consider rethinking what they thought was to be a straight-forward movie about a turtle. The rest of us can get lost in each drop of rain or potential escape and contemplate our own lives as we watch another lived out in a quiet, distant and tragic place.