We open with the man floating in enormous waves, his boat capsized, before he wakes along shore of a mysterious island. I say mysterious because as he comes to, he finds himself somewhere that recalls magical places we've seen in films such as Hsiao-Hsien Hou's The Assassin, the wondrous meerkat island in Ang Lee's Life of Pi or forest sequences in Terence Malick's The New World. He tours the grounds, looking for someone to help him, only to realize that he is alone. With a few fiddler crabs, baby turtles, and a dead seal, the focus turns for how he can get off the island.
It has to be mentioned that The Red Turtle comes from Japanese animation Studio Ghibli, which famously produced a large amount of director Hayao Miyazaki's beautiful works. So, it is no surprise that what we see is a mixture of the fantasy with an environmental message. Our main character does attempt to leave the island, using bamboo chutes and brush tied to make a sail, but his efforts are thwarted by the films title tortoise- an enormous red sand colored turtle. Now it is at this point for the audience to start seeing a bit of the metaphor to the tale. When the turtle refuses to let the man leave, he takes his anger out of the animal, only for it to turn into a beautiful woman. The film then proceeds to follow the man, as he creates his own family with the woman, living among the nature, that is both stubborn and always unpredictable.
There are also some parallels that director/writer Michael Dudok de Wit draws between films such as Ridley Scott's The Martian, as our main character faces off against the enormous beast of an island that could break him with its beauty and also J.A. Bayona's tsunami survival flick- The Impossible. When the water drains away like a tub, only to rush back, thrashing bodies like socks in a dryer, it's easy for a split second to forget that these are animated characters.
It's when The Red Turtle comes to its conclusion when the audience will need to decide what they think it all meant. Why would an enormous turtle turn into a woman? Was it all a dream? Or is there something else meant in all of it? I won't answer that question for you, (seriously, go see this movie for yourself) I just know that it all makes for a unique and beautiful film.
This is an animated work that cares about small and intricate detail of the colors and atmosphere in a way that is scarcely done. We see a lot of animated films these days with talking animals (Zootopia, Secret Life of Pets, Finding Dory, should I keep going?), so it is nice to finally see an animated film that truly captures the essence of the air, the land, the sea, the turtles, and the humans who make this world go round. The Red Turtle is a breath of fresh air.
3 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady
MOVIE: THE RED TURTLE
DIRECTED BY: MICHAEL DUDOK DE WIT
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
The Red Turtle would be the perfect recommendation to someone who wants to meditate. It is a soothing, French/Japanese fable, that has zero dialogue (except for some grunts and groans), following the life of a man whose been washed ashore on an island. It sounds simple, but the story that it tells still delivers an emotional and spiritual impact that touches our souls. Because it is lacking in conversations, the audience is forced to absorb the texture of the animation and soak in the sounds of whooshing water. It accumulates to The Red Turtle blossoming into a beautiful film that blends mystery and magic.