Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fish Tank (Arnold. 2009)

"I like the way she says c**t." - Me

Katie Jarvis was discovered by casting directors while in a shouting match with her boyfriend at the Tilbury train station. As a person, one could say that she was doomed for the type of life we wish against. Pregnant at sixteen and living in the slums of an Essex living unit in London, Jarvis was the walking embodiment of a troubled youth. It seems that fate played a hand in introducing the teenager to film director, Andrea Arnold.

For Fish Tank, Arnold created a character that is not unlike her leading lady. Mia is foul-mouthed, from a broken home headed by a violent and promiscuous mother and virtually unwatched for several hours each day. She spends her free time getting into fights, breaking into houses and hip-hop dancing. She is, like Jervis, doomed to a life of trashiness and lower-middle class obscurity.

Film works at its best whenever it can mirror reality and make the audience care for the characters. This is the most working aspect of Fish Tank. Jarvis is incredibly convincing because there is obvious truth behind her performance. You can see in her eyes that she is not faking. Her emotions are real and they radiate off the screen. We believe her. The audience hurts for her.

In a life like Mia's, it would be hard to think of a worse possible case. This is where Arnold introduces the audience to Michael Fassbender's character, Conner. Here is a man that reinforces the creepy feelings in our stomachs. A married man with a child, Conner is sleeping with Mia's mother. He also takes an unnatural liking to Mia. Some people call Conner a pedophile. And yes, by lawful definition that is what he becomes. Some critics, like Ebert, just see him as immoral and disgusting with no actual lustful desire toward children.

What I like about the film is that they let you decide for yourself. Everything is seen from Mia's viewpoint, so the audience does not get any of Conner's back story. We see hints and clues to a possible normal life, but we are left to assume which mystery they solve. He may be an evil pedophile who was after Mia all along. He may be a scumbag who was looking for a screw. Heck, his wife may have been into the whole thing. We never find out.

When looking down into a fish tank, a person is spying on the life of something that cannot escape the life that has been chosen for it. From all angles, the walls are clear and allow us to voyeuristically peer through and into something private. I have no idea if my thought on the title has anything to do with why Arnold named the film, but the name seems fitting in this respect.

Fish Tank is an aesthetically raw and emotionally piercing film that seemed to dramatically fly through its over two hour running time. This is an exhausting motion picture. It does everything it can to the audience before abandoning them with a happy-ish (but not really) ending. One of the newest films in the 1077 is also one of the best that I have seen so far.

Fish Tank: A

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