In this edition of Creations of Chaos, it’s the film that will make you believe that life is a magical and beautiful thing. I cry tears of joy over The Red Turtle.
“Ma’am are you crying?” Asks the theater employee.
“Yes,” I respond, wishing someone had advised that you might need a few tissues with you while viewing The Red Turtle.
“It’s okay,” he says comfortingly, ” you aren’t the first person to come out of this theater crying today.”
The Oscar nominated, The Red Turtle, is a collaboration between Studio Ghibli, studio Wild Bunch, and Why Not Productions. It’s director and co-writer, Michael de Wit’s debut, full length, animated film, and I hope that the talented, creative, filmmaker, will soon have a new project underway.
After encountering a vicious storm, a man is left stranded on an island.
At first the man constructs rafts in order to make an escape, but a large, red turtle, thwarts his plan by destroying all of the rafts. The man is frustrated and hopeless, until a woman appears on the island. The two fall in love, raise a child, and live a wonderful life.
With the exception of a few shouts of “hey,” there is no dialogue or speaking in The Red Turtle.
I’ve seen two other full length, non-speaking, animated films.
In The Triplets of Belleville, music is a large part of the film, so essentially, the music acts as the dialogue. It worked, but the film did seem a bit long.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Illusionist, which is also non-speaking. It didn’t have the same music that carried The Triplets of Belleville, plus, The Illusionist was pretty depressing. It felt long.
Out of the three non-speaking animated films I’ve seen, I think the concept works best in The Red Turtle. The pacing was perfect, and there was an abundance of scenery to look at. It has the same running time as the above mentioned films, but I was so engrossed, it did not feel long.
The mix of hand-drawn and computer 2D animation is stunning. I love an old-school 2D animated film, as it brings me back to the style that made me first fall in love with animation.
Being a fan of islands and nature, I was in love with the setting of the film. The calm waves, the lush forest, and blue sky, sets a peaceful tone. There are sequences where the colors become muted for a time, only to switch back to the vibrant, brilliant, Caribbean blues. It’s a satisfying jolt to the eyes.
There is wildlife in almost every scene, so the main characters always have company. I appreciated the creative use of the little family of sand crabs. As I watched the film I imagined that the entire story was actually being told through the view point of the crabs. In their eyes, some giant being washes up on the beach to provide the crabs with new entertainment, as they spend their day observing and interacting with the humans.
The underneath shots of the graceful, swimming turtles, is a gorgeous animation highlight.
Unlike many Studio Ghibli films, whose characters have very expressive eyes, in The Red Turtle, the eyes are represented by simple black dots. Combined with the lack of dialogue, this creates a challenge for the animators. Everything that needs to be communicated, needs to be expressed through body language. Not only is this well executed, but it is done in a way that really makes you as an audience member reflect upon how unneeded words can be at times. A heave of the shoulders, a touch of the face, an embrace, it takes so little to say so much to the people we love.
I came away with two realizations as I sniffled out of The Red Turtle.
We all have red turtle moments in our lives.
The man’s first instinct when faced with the problem of being stranded on the island was to escape. Each time he tries to escape however, the red turtle was there to thwart him, forcing the man to return to the island, and to his problem. The turtle was breaking apart the rafts, not to torment the man, but to keep him where he was because something wonderful was about to come along. How many times do we feel like something like the turtle is keeping us trapped on our island filled with problems, and all we want to do is find an escape, but maybe we are in that place for a reason, because something wonderful is about to come along.
The other realization I came to, the one that dissolved me into a puddle of joyful tears, is that when all of the clutter, distractions, and nonsense of life is stripped away, life is a beautiful and magical thing.
On the island there are no twenty-four hour news channels, there is no internet, no screens whatsoever. Sure there are still chores and jobs that must be done in order to survive, but there are no soccer practices to run to, meetings to attend, or cookies for bake sales to bake. Not that these things are evil. I love my Instagram, live tweeting, and being able to see films like this one whenever I want, but I think that at times we get too wrapped up in things that make us feel that life is a stressful, dreadful, chore, that we must live out each day.
There’s an amazing scene in the film. The couple’s son has left the island to forge out on his own as children do. The man and the woman are older, they are walking on the beach hand in hand. They turn to each other and begin dancing under the moonlight. Again there is no speaking, but their movements express the love and enduring connection between them. It is a magical moment.
That is life. When everything else is stripped away, it is our breath, ourselves; it is the pure, deep, connection we have with others. It is our connection to nature, and eventually, it is our death.
On our island, with everything else silenced, life is a simple, magical, beautiful thing, that we should never take for granted.