The Red Turtle 28.05.17
The weather was changing; two days of scorching sunlight in Edinburgh had turned to clouds and the first big rainfall. I took shelter in the cinema to watch an enigma, the virtually silent Japanese-Dutch animation called The Red Turtle.
I don't think I've cried so much after a film, and I'm wondering why. The Red Turtle as a film concerns one man's isolation as a shipwreck on an island. It engages with the cycle of life and death, but also crucially, accepting your situation. When the man tries to leave his island on the rafts that he builds, he's thwarted each time by some kind of force – eventually revealed as a giant red sea turtle – one that allows him to return to the island, but never to escape it. Later the man is able to turn it over on its shell on the beach and he thinks of killing it. If this is bizarre as a lead-up, then what enfolds is magical, and he finds a reason to stay on the island forever. It becomes a story about transfiguration and empathy and guilt, then love and family, and then eventually the end of one person's cycle.
Everything ends, and the ending overwhelmed me with melancholy, whose definition is worth a reminder: a feeling of pensive sadness, typically with no obvious cause. I don't know why I began to cry, for example, when the man dreamed of leaving his island via a magical bridge of bamboo, before taking flight, though the music is tinged with something both soaring and tragic. The later love story, one without words, is as simple as it needs to be, this is love seen at its essence, of life seen in essence.
I remember leaving the screening room avoiding eye contact with the usher, who wished me goodbye. I knew mascara and eye-liner would be streaked around my cheeks and I felt ashamed. I walked away from the cinema, the sky still recovering from the storm of before, bright sunlight rays making halos in a light evening sky. I arrived home and began cooking, and began crying again, now like the storm I'd seen earlier that day. I thought about my family and I thought about The Red Turtle, life, art and nature together.
I don't know whether the film would affect others like this. Witness it, though: as an arc of our lives, glimpsed through the prism of nature, and I'm sure that you'll find yourself in there. For the breath-taking skies and shimmering ocean, the magical reality, and where we fit into it all; yes, I recommend this as a mesmerising window: follow the red turtle.