Article By: Dan Clark
Sometimes there are films that are clearly not meant for everyone—films that forego conventional concepts to explore experimental ground. That is certainty the case with Lucien Castaing-Taylor’s and Verena Paravel’s latest directorial effort Leviathan, a chilling visceral experience covering the commercial fishing industry in the North Atlantic.
When looking at a movie of this nature it is important to distinguish it from other films and television shows that share similar subject matter. Leviathan is not Deadliest Catch: The Movie, nor is comparable to other reality television shows that depict treacherous professions across the globe. There is no narrative here, no artificial creation of colorful characters, and no heavy-handed environmental message.
The premise of Leviathan is stunningly simple. Castaing-Taylor and Paravel placed a number of tiny waterproof cameras anywhere and everywhere including on people, animals, and every nook and cranny around the vessel. This experiment yielded raw intense footage of unmistakable beauty; from the murkiness of the prolonged landscape, to the tediousness of the life of the deep-sea fisherman, to the glimpses of a still unknown world beneath the ocean waves. If you will let it this series of images will memorize you into a state of complacency where the most mundane tasks become exhilarating.
While Leviathan is undoubtedly a visual experience, a big part of what makes it work is also the sound design. Easily the best example of this is when the camera moves in and out of the ocean. As it descends to the ocean’s depth the only sound that evident is the rushing water. When it emerges the world becomes alive again as the cackling of hovering seagulls fills the air. It’s like traveling through dimensions as if both worlds live by a different set of rules.
There are only a handful of actual conversations that take place, and you see the faces of only a few people. Never does an omniscient narrator appear to explain what exactly is happening. Boredom can quickly set in if you looking for something more welcoming. The constant lingering on nearly every shot does not help matters. Even someone like myself, who greatly enjoyed the film, found moments when I was ready to move on to the next scene.
What is maybe the most interesting aspect about Leviathan are the conversations it can entice. Debating the quality of films is always enjoyable, but Leviathan brings that conversation to a new level. Some can look at the film as a groundbreaking cinematic masterpiece that challenges the format unlike anything in recent memory. Others would dismiss that praise as extreme hyperbole and feel people put much more into Leviathan than it actually gives.
It is a form of debate about abstract art that has been going on since its incarnation. No matter what you feel about Leviathan you have to agree its ability to spark intelligent discourse is a triumph we do not see enough today. If nature and the way humans interact with it is something you are interested in seeing you cannot do much better than Leviathan.