This ‘Fish Tank’ Is a Harsh Place

[10 August 2009]

By Omar Kholeif

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Winner of the Jury Prize at Cannes, Fish Tank is a stunning rites of passage story, written and directed by the Oscar-winning filmmaker of Red Road (Arnold, 2006). The opening begins with the 15-year-old, Mia, who lives on a council estate and seems hell bent on getting into trouble. She is accompanied by her loud and obnoxious little sister and her mother—a trashy, but sexy vixen who certainly wasn’t schooled in the arts of conventional mothering.

To escape her forlorn existence, Mia retreats to an abandoned haven where she practices hip-hop dancing. But, it isn’t until the arrival of her mum’s new Irish boyfriend, Connor, played by the formidable Michael Fassbender that the narrative kicks into full swing. The handsome Connor unbuckles the palpable tension in the dysfunctional family, seemingly bringing hope and redemption. But before long, we realize that the director will not settle on a simple narrative resolution. Instead, the handsome stranger is filled with desires of his own, which will alter the lives of all those parties involved.

With Fish Tank, we have a British product that is realistic, harsh and brutal, without ever succumbing to the overwrought notions expected of this generic form. Perhaps this is because Arnold is more interested in human characters and desires, as opposed to making an overarching social statement. Of course, the stark circumstances of these characters plays a pivotal part in their motivations, but these circumstances are never elevated or shoved into the viewer’s face, existing instead in the subtext and production design. In turn, Arnold has crafted a picture that should please critics and arthouse aficionados, as well as audiences, interested in discovering a universal, human narrative.

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