A shipwrecked man finds himself deserted on a secluded island and struggles to save his life but his efforts are constantly made futile by an unseen force. A few twists and turns later he finds himself living a fulfilling life on the island.
The Red Turtle is the 2016 Studio Ghibly produced movie which is directed by Michael Dudok de Wit. It is Ghibli’s first film outside of Japan.
The film starts with a man who is left estrange after a shipwreck and follows him in his quest to save himself. He builds a raft to escape the ocean but his raft is shattered by something. He makes another one and sails but again it is shattered by something, he tries this several times only to get his raft broken to pieces by something in the ocean. That something is the red turtle who just won’t let this man leave.
The film is told visually i.e. there are no dialogues in the film except “Hey!”. The characters shout hey when calling each other that’s all. What’s commendable is the director’s ability to convey emotion without dialogues in an animated film. Ghibli is known for its cinematic excess, there are big moments and the animation is over the top. In contrast to that, The Red Turtle is minimal with gorgeous wide frames encompassing the beauty of nature and human relationships together. This conveys the message that humans and nature belong together. This film is like a love letter for nature from the director.
There are no dialogues in the film still it manages to instil most human emotions with ease. There is frustration, awe, love, hate, hope, confusion, fear, peace and many other feelings that the viewer goes through throughout the course of the film. Considering it is only 80 minutes long with no dialogues, it is a huge achievement also it’s Michael Dudok’s first feature film as a director as well.
On the surface The Red Turtle is a film of a man who gets to raise a family and goes through various phases of life. He finds himself alone struggling, then finds a partner to live his life with, together they make the island their home and have a child, eventually they see their child leave them only to see themselves grow old and die. It is a melancholic film about life taking the viewer through a range of emotion. Isn’t life just like that- a series of emotions and death at the end of it?
The soundtrack of the film is perhaps the strongest part of the film. Since there is no dialogue, the music commands a firm place in storytelling taking the story forward.
There is incredible attention to detail in the film that goes beyond human emotions. Yes, the film makes you feel every kind of emotion there is but it does so with technical brilliance. The colour use is spot on with generous use of greens, browns, oranges and blues. This also works to create contrast with the turtle which is red in colour. The mannerism of the characters that are human has subtle signs that they are actually not humans. For example, the way the woman swims is different from the way the man swims. The man uses his hands and legs to move in water but the woman uses only her hands just like turtles only use their front limbs to swim.
In the end The Red Turtle is a film about the art of letting go. The characters constantly let go of their wants. This starts with the man letting go of his desire to sail back to where he came from, the turtle letting go of her true form, the parents letting go of their child, the man letting go of his life and the turtle regaining her true self again letting go of her life with the man. Perhaps that’s what’s life is all about- an art of letting go for things we think important but sometimes the alternate, unexpected thing is what we get.
All in all The Red Turtle is a masterful piece of cinema and a must watch for all cinema lovers.