Fish Tank – A Film filled with Cruel Beauty directed by Andrea Arnold
Mia (Katie Jarvis) isn’t a congenial 15-year-old girl. And while some of her peers may be wrapped in saccharine, bubbly as a spritzer, and without a hiccup in their buoyant step, Mia is the antithesis of adolescent glee.
Teenage angst always exists, but here, in the world of director Andrea Arnold, the archetypical duality of perpetual confusion and intermittent happiness are traded in for total emotional dystopia: Mia has the demeanor of a nineteen-twenties bare knuckle boxer. Not average for a teen girl, but neither is her mercurial life.
Mia’s home is so checkered with yellowed walls and irresponsible parenting that, if someone looked in on her abysmal childhood, an outside party would cringe. Even Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), her younger sister, curses with the acute consistency of an adolescent Joe Pesci.
The tone of “Fish Tank” is, because of its murmuring dependency on pulpy depression, often tiring and exasperating to watch. Often drowsy blues and omnipotent grays staple themselves to the walls around the film’s characters. Arnold’s examination of youthful despair, heightened by poverty and emotional abuse, is reminiscent of director Karen Moncrieff; a director whose visual work deals largely with callous relationships and decrepit social structures.
You also get the feeling that Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher,” a story about a young boy’s childhood in the rueful landscape of Glasgow, where trash sprouts from the ground like tangled flowers, was an indirect influence.
Between binge drinking cider and breaking into vacant apartments, Mia ends up meeting Connor (Michael Fassbender), her mother’s unusually charming beau. Excavating the little civility Mia’s household has, Connor begins a skewed friendship with the volatile teen.
The supercharged mouthiness of Mia begins to pop and wheeze, until it almost comes to a puttering stop, after Connor’s seemingly innocuous tutelage begins. As expected, Mia falls for him, and some rather serpentine twists transpire.
Mia’s primary interest in “Fish Tank” is a interest for urban dancing, which exists to fill up the hollow concave in her life with echoes of hope. In her times of vulnerability, destitute and malnourished, Mia plunks in old school hip-hop CDs into her boombox. Many times her face is sheathed by the hood of a sweatshirt, her movements making the fabric of her attire flimsily bob up and down, as she folds her body in elaborate contortions.
The scene, one of questionable resonance on paper, proves to be exceptional filmmaking; plumes of clouds quell a furious sun in the distance, as our young protagonist attempts to ignite something equally as bright in her own soul.
The soundtrack of “Fish Tank” rattles with a jazzy hubris, inundating the unfiltered scenes of anxiety with songs from Gangstarr and Nas. The excessive snare and zipping patterns of rhyme create, like an informal glaze or decoupage, a way of encapsulating the only immediate structure in her life.
“Fish Tank” is a wholly internal experience that, days after watching it, grows on you in intangible ways. The film is filled with cruel beauty, restrained electricity, brooding melancholy. Andrea Arnold has truly crafted one of the more resounding pictures of the year thus far. At times difficult to watch, this picture is fluid poetry.
“Fish Tank” is now playing at Landmark’s Ken Cinema
4061 Adams Avenue
San Diego, CA 92116-2505
Contributor Robert Patrick is a local movie buff particularly interested in independent films and providing insightful reviews for you to follow.