The Red Turtle: A movie beyond words

A- Animated fantasy
Written by Pascale Ferran & Michael Dudok de Wit
Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit

A man marooned on a deserted island struggles to survive, escape, and ward off loneliness in this strange, beautiful, and effecting animated tale. And in a strange way, he will find almost everything he wants. Although essentially a French film, Japan’s great Studio Ghibli was involved, and that company’s beautiful brushstroke visual style adds greatly to the atmosphere.

This is nothing like the Robert Zemeckis/Tom Hanks movie Cast Away. That one played it straight, creating the reality of a marooned existence. The Red Turtle is more of a myth. And the unnamed protagonist of The Red Turtle doesn’t have a soccer ball to talk to. Beyond an occasional cry of “hey!” there’s no dialog. This French/Japanese co-production is one foreign cartoon where you don’t have to ask ” subtitled or dubbed?”

The best way to experience The Red Turtle is the way I did: knowing almost nothing about it. Although I’ll avoid major spoilers ahead, you might want to stop reading this review now.

The movie starts with a man tossed and turned by an angry ocean. We never know how he got there. Luckily, he wakes up on an island. He finds food and fresh water. He also befriends a family of small crabs, who provide Disney-like comedy relief. But the man suffers from strange dreams, and attempts to build a raft.

But his rafts always fall apart, violently, while he’s still within swimming distance of the island. Something is keeping him there. And that something is the giant, red turtle of the title.

Then, through the film’s major fantasy element, a woman appears on the island. They have a baby, who grows into a young man. Despite appearances, the woman and child aren’t strictly human.

Although these people stay on the island for at least several decades, they appear to do the absolute least for their safety and comfort. For instance, despite frequent downpours, they never built any form of shelter. Why? I suppose because it makes the movie more magical.

There were times when The Red Turtle made me think of The Secret of Roan Inish. Of course, the films are very different – John Sayles’ Irish fairy tale has a lot of dialog – but there is a thematic connection.

The Red Turtle has its faults. For one, it felt like it was ending twice before it finally ended. On the other hand, the final ending was the perfect one.