Review: Fish Tank (2009)

fish tank

Just when I think my countries future is fucked, here come the British!

Written By: Andrea Arnold
Directed By: Andrea Arnold

Recently my partner and I were on our way back from taking a patient to the hospital. It had been a trying call because this patient had bouts of aggression and was taking it out on my partner and I. As my partner and I talked about the call we started discussing the idea of toxicity. People have problems, there’s no denying that, but for some people they have a trigger in the form of another person. As I was watching Fish Tank I couldn’t help but recall this conversation with my partner as the film washed over me with the characters toxicity. Maybe I’m alone in this, but in a different situation and a different time I have no doubt that Mia would be decent person. However, she’s in a situation where every person she comes into contact with is a toxic trigger. She can’t help but be the way she is because that’s what she must do to survive. From the get go the toxic nature of the world of Fish Tank oozes off the screen, and it only gets worse as the film progresses.

I immediately thought of Ratcatcher while watching Fish Tank. Andrea Arnold’s film is the same sort of modern kitchen sink tale as Lynne Ramsay’s 1999 effort. Miss Arnold’s film takes it a step further though, demolishing the kitchen and leaving a world where no one can survive. For all the yelling, the theatrics, and the hatred, survival is the order of the day in Fish Tank. Mia needs to survive a neglectful mother so she latches onto the first man to show her kindness. In turn her mother needs to survive from an adulthood she has never matured into, and she latches onto a man who could provide the maturity she lacks. The characters in Fish Tank are trying to survive, but survival isn’t easy when the entire world is stacked against you.

Miss Arnold has a wonderful eye for getting to the heart of her characters. Nowhere is this more clear than in the physicality and believability of Mia. Mia is played by Katie Jarvis, and this is her first ever film role. She is brilliant as a troubled youth who is headed for disaster. She’s pretty, and that’s very important to her role. She’s not helpless, but her natural prettiness adds a level of vulnerability underneath all of her tough girl posturing. Mia isn’t all rawhide, there is a little girl underneath the veneer she puts forth. A little girl who is constantly being hurt and will continue to be hurt every time she opens herself up to someone else. Miss Jarvis is able to be vulnerable and tough, not an easy task for a first time actress.

Sometimes downbeat movies are too heavy, but Fish Tank avoids this with a level of dark humor. It’s not always present, but there are moments in the film that are quite funny, and touching. Fish Tank is a very depressing film, and Miss Arnold’s decision to include the funny interactions, and the touching dances add to the depressing nature of the film. The lighter moments allow a brief glimpse into how life could be for this family and these people were their circumstances different. They are just glimpses though, and the narrative consistently picks the right moment to pull back into the damaged and depressing world that the characters do live in.

I have a sneaking suspicion that any future viewings of Fish Tank will only serve to make me like the film even more. As it stands I think Fish Tank is a great film, a stark opus on the nature of family and the desire for freedom in a world where all anyone wants is to fit in with the crowd. Miss Arnold acquits herself well in Fish Tank, providing a female voice to the problem of growing up poor. We’re all caught in our own fish tank, but this Fish Tank doesn’t offer any release, and that’s why it’s such a difficult, but rewarding watch.





2 responses to “Review: Fish Tank (2009)

  1. Good review Bill. Fassbender was great in this. You never know if he’s a guy to trust, or if he’s just a slimy creep. He keeps us guessing forever, until it becomes all too clear what he obviously is.

  2. He’s pretty much great in everything, although Katie Jarvis stole the show in this one.

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