Fish Tank

Katie Jarvis in Fish Tank

DIR/WRI: Andrea Arnold • PRO: Kees Kasander, Nick Laws • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Nicolas Chaudeurge • DES: Helen Scott • CAST: Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender, Kierston Wareing

The rather curiously titled Fish Tank gives an account of a seemingly poignant time in young Mia’s (Katie Jarvis) life, when she spends her days blindly trying to overcome her limiting circumstances. Her life is further complicated with the arrival of her single mother’s new squeeze, the suave, charming and just a bit sleazy Connor (Michael Fassbender). Director Andrea Arnold does a fine job of depicting the hopeless, suffocating finality of her protagonist’s situation. However, for better or worse, the film feels like an isolated section of Mia’s life, rather than an especially significant chapter of it.

To Arnold’s credit, Fish Tank does a decent job of revealing the human side to all its characters, both their harsh exterior and their inner vulnerabilities. It also juggles the dichotomy that good people do bad things and vice versa very well. Like an expert juggler if you will. I doubt most viewers will overly warm to the characters, but you’d have to be a mean git not to be moved on occasion by the trials they face.

Regarding the pacing, the story proceeds for two hours without actually picking a direction. This unclear narrative does an excellent job of mimicking the often unfocused path life itself can follow, but if you are looking for satisfying linkage and conclusion to particular strands of plot, well just don’t. There are a couple of consistent threads, but they seem to end abruptly rather than climax excitingly. Perhaps a reflection on one of the film’s prominent sex scenes?

Most accounts of the film will attribute huge significance to the character of Connor, and how he affects Mia’s life. And while it is obvious he is the secondary character, and gets considerable screen time, I for one never felt his importance to Mia. There are of course developments between the two of them, but I would maintain that this is utterly Mia’s tale, and Connor is little more than a catalyst for some of her actions and realisations.

Personally, I found any specific, localised message to be obscured. I loved this, as once again it is a mirror of life’s frequent ambiguity, rather than being a moral tale by numbers. It does serve as a reminder that a lot of people are hard and cruel as a result of being in a disadvantaged position. Some maybe moved a lot, others to the same extent as a gritty documentary or charity poster. It all depends on how you feel about social inequality really. It’s still a worthwhile reminder.

Fish Tank’s strength lies in its authenticity. Everything from Mia’s love/hate relationships with her sister, her clothes, her distain for her drunk, flippant mother, her flat, her dancing, her ‘pikey’ friend, even her aggression towards anything that may rub her the wrong way, accurately depict the frustrations of a working-class girl yearning for something. The authentic dialogue, especially the callous interactions between Mia’s family, assault you from the very start. The witty abuse and inventive threats lend an air of elegance to the foul language. My only criticism was I had trouble with Connor’s accent towards the beginning, as it was hard to place, but as the movie progresses it is obviously Irish, so maybe I should level this criticism against my malfunctioning ears.

If I were to say Fish Tank is entertaining, I’d be taking liberties with the definition of the word ‘entertaining.’ It could be more accurately expressed as watching a car crash in slow motion. Perhaps ‘Admirable’ would be an apt description of Andrea Arnold’s work, but it was not easy viewing, unless you enjoy tense, awkward and occasionally upsetting viewing. I would wager viewers will be about as glad to get out of the cinema as they were to have seen the film.

Jack McGlynn
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (See IFCO website for details)
Fish Tank
is released on 11th September 2009

Fish Tank – Official Website

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