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March 15, 2012

Fish Tank

by Franz Patrick


Fish Tank (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

When Joanne (Kierston Wareing) brought home Connor (Michael Fassbender), a new boyfriend, Mia (Katie Jarvis), a troubled fifteen-year-old, was immediately infatuated with him, and he with her. The two tried not to act on their desires for obvious reasons but how long could they resist when the small apartment required them to be constantly within reach? Written and directed by Andrea Arnold, “Fish Tank” was a coming-of-age film with a keen eye on characterization and telling truths that might be difficult to sit on. Specifically, how unpredictable a teenage mind could be and the lengths it would go to get its desires. Mia was tough, unafraid to stand her ground against a group of girls but, like most teenagers, she was lonely. Even when she was at home, she found no peace of mind. Joanne saw Mia’s youth as both threatening and a reminder that she was no longer the young party girl she once was. Due to Joanne’s lack of effective parenting, it seemed like Mia’s sister, Tyler (Rebecca Griffiths), was well on her way to becoming a troubled teenager as well. Barely ten years of age, she smoked and drank with her friends. Her role models were the scantily-clothed women on television. I found it interesting that when Joanne and Mia occupied the same room, it was always one person facing another’s back and they avoided to make eye contact. They lived in the same apartment and shared the same bloodline but they were essentially roommates who didn’t get along. But the director avoided to judge the way these people lived. Like quietly staring in a fish tank, we just observed them and the way they reacted to the rhythms of every day. I admired the fact the film’s focus wasn’t about whether it was right or wrong for Mia and Connor to engage in sexual activity. What mattered what how Mia felt around him. She was happy and flattered that someone took a genuine interest in her talent for dancing. He was a father figure that she didn’t really know, or wasn’t willing to accept, she needed. Fassbender gave his character depth. Instead of portraying a creepy predator, he was a friend. The complexity of their relationship was what kept me wanting to know what would happen next. The film took pride in delivering the unpredictable. When Mia made friends with a boy (Harry Treadaway) interested in car mechanics, it was easy to assume that she would use him to make Connor jealous. That wasn’t the case. “Fish Tank” could easily have been about an angry girl who lived in a poor neighborhood and how she eventually willed herself to escape her horrid upbringing. There was none of the usual life lessons about overcoming poverty. I felt the director’s utmost respect for her subjects by allowing them to be their imperfect selves up until the very end. Best of all, Arnold’s direction successfully led us to an invisible part of Britain and made it more visible.

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