This visually beautiful and engaging animation from the Ghibli Studio combines fantasy with deep human experiences of loss, loneliness, love, and desperation simply through visual animation, music, and a few shouts. It reminded me of last year’s Swiss Army Man, with a man stranded on an isolated island showing the value of fantasy in survival, but the feel of the two films is entirely different one from the other.
The film opens with a fierce storm on the ocean, and we see a poor figure being tossed about until he is thrown up on the sand. He is awakened by a crab crawling up his leg, which he rapidly shakes out. The ever-curious sand crabs reappear from time to time and constitute some of the more humorous moments. Very clever. They are sometimes his only companions.
The man is ingenious at devising ways to survive. He builds a number of rafts, but most of them get upended by some mysterious creature underneath, which he can never see. Eventually if appears as a huge red turtle. The man is furious with it and tries to destroy it, finally turning it on its back so it can’t navigate. As time goes by and the turtle appears to be dying, the man feels guilty and tries to revive it with water.
The charm of this film is to see events gradually unfold, so I’m going to skip any more description of the plot. It’s best to discover it on your own. But there is continuing drama and extremely tense moments alternating with blissful happiness. The Red Turtle is about more than just the turtle, by marking the milestones of human existence that involve significant events in a person’s life. It could be seen as a fable illustrating fortitude, forgiveness, grappling with fateful events, human values of connection, and inevitable separation.
This is the first feature film from Director, Michael Dudok de Wit, who has previously written and directed shorts (The Monk and the Fish, Father and Daughter, and The Aroma of Tea), but all his work is related to human intersection with the world of nature. Here, he collaborates with French screenwriter Pascale Ferran to create a longer fanciful tale that still maintains his interest in human connections with others and with nature.
Survival at its most fanciful and truthful.
Grade: A- By Donna R. Copeland