The Red Turtle (2017) Review

Animated film about life itself is a deeply moving tale of love and hope.

The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics
The Red Turtle is an animated film about a man shipwrecked on a deserted island who meets a large red turtle that changes his life.

It takes all but a cursory glance at the name behind the making of The Red Turtle to feel a sense of what to expect before it begins. Studio Ghibli has long been the cornerstone of high quality, deeply emotional, character-driven animated films that have come to be acclaimed as some of the best ever created. Here, the film is dependent entirely on the visuals with not a single spoken word on screen, leaving only impossibly beautiful imagery and music to carry us through on a mesmerizing and often heartbreaking journey of imagination about the human condition.

Upon the roiling waves of an angry sea, a man struggles to stay afloat as he is tossed and hurdled about before soon washing ashore upon a small deserted island in the middle of the sea. Unnamed, he explores the corners of this strange new world and realizes he is utterly alone, finding groves of bamboo, pools of fresh water, and peaks that overlook nothing but an empty vast blue horizon.

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The Man sets about finding ways to leave his new island home, crafting a raft of bamboo and launches it into the surf, but moments into the exodus is set upon by an unseen attack that destroys his vessel and forces him back to the beach. Undaunted, he tries again but met with the same result. What is so intent on stranding the Man to the shores of this lonely paradise?

Time passes as we witness the brutality of his isolation, from hallucinations and despair to acceptance and resilience though the sea continually calls and soon he tries again, building a larger, sturdier craft, of which this time he attempts to defend when he meets the harbinger of his defeats, a massive red turtle intent on keeping him on land. When that turtle comes ashore herself, the Man becomes vengeful, and in an act of defiance and staggery cruelty, flips the beast on its back where it dies in the heat of the sun. What follows as result changes everything.

Written and directed by Michael Dudok de Wit, The Red Turtle is a paralyzing metaphor on what it means to be human, a powerfully illustrated odyssey about our own purpose via the hurdles and challenges we face as we work to find the meaning in our lives. As mentioned, there are no words to make that clear, aside from the aching grunts and moans of frustration or delight, only a stunning collection of telling visuals that reveal in sensual detail the message we glean through this exploration of life.

The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics

The film is breathlessly real and yet driven by fantasy, telling a tale in parable as we learn that trapped within the body of the turtle was in fact a beautiful woman, and from this comes the next stage and true design for why the Man has found his way to this island. The film is careful not to make this too obvious, however the lines are easy to connect and serves as one of the film’s greatest achievements in its cyclical tale of who we are and where we are going.

The animation is not so much realistic, though is far from the fantastical styles of popular children’s films of the genre. Colors are subdued, awash in lustrous pastel pallets while the figures are very grounded, their movements achingly authentic. The filmmakers put great emphasis into the broader details, often keeping the Man at a distance, putting the world around him in deep hues of blue and brown as things drip with life. It’s a majestic portrayal of one Man’s metaphorical path that comes to represent us all.

What does it truly mean to be human? That is an age old question many filmmakers have struggled with answering. Dudok de Wit isn’t so much looking for explanations rather than giving depth to the adventure. The journey is filled with hopes and setback, responsibilities, unbounded love and unbearable sadness. The Red Turtle is a profoundly moving experience, one that challenges and fulfills and leaves you feeling richer for being alive.

The Red Turtle (2017) Review

Movie description: The Red Turtle is an animated film about a man shipwrecked on a deserted island who meets a large red turtle that changes his life.

Director(s): Michael Dudok de Wit

Genre: Animation, Drama

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