It would be virtually impossible to improve “The Red Turtle.”
Up for an Animation Oscar this year, the film is as close to perfection as this kind of movie can get, which is not to say it’s a perfect movie, or that most people would even respond favorably to it.
“The Red Turtle” plays by its own particular set of rules and by those rules it works remarkably well.
The story is as simple as it is large. A shipwrecked man washes ashore on a deserted island. After taking a few days to get his bearings, the castaway sets out to build a raft from the island’s plentiful bamboo trees. Once his task is completed, he begins his ocean voyage, only to have his dream of escape dashed by some unseen (and underwater) force of nature that destroys the raft. He barely makes it back to shore safely.
He tries his escape a few more times but, each time, his ever larger rafts are destroyed.
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His nemesis is eventually revealed to be an enormous red turtle. And when that same turtle one day shows up on land, our castaway exacts his revenge. It’s at this point, about one-third into the movie, that the story springs into the realm of fable. A metamorphosis takes place that alters the castaway’s fate and the thematic direction of the movie.
It’s also at this point that one may realize for the first time the film is wordless. Until now, the lone man has been so fixated on satisfying his pressing physical needs — food, shelter, escape — that the fact he hasn’t been speaking is unremarkable. As the story progresses, however, it becomes more and more obvious that the absence of language is not a naturalistic choice but the filmmaker’s aesthetic decision.
Dispensing with language altogether allows moviegoers to focus on the elemental nature of its tale. It’s a movie about fundamental things, about man and nature, about the arc and cycle of life, about death and destruction and re-birth. It’s about the natural order of things and its sometimes magical or mystical counterpart.
“The Red Turtle” is an exceedingly quiet movie that makes other films seem unnecessarily noisy and chatty.
Its stillness engenders reflection, and that’s a rare achievement in films these days.