Movies You Might Have Missed: The Red Turtle

Title: The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge)
Release Date: 2016
Rating: PG
Length: 80 minutes
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Starring: Emmanuel Garijo, Tom Hudson, Baptiste Goy
Language: N/A
Country: France/Japan

Technically, The Red Turtle is a joint venture French/Japanese film. But that doesn’t really matter beyond informing the art-style; it’s a hybridization of Western animation and anime. The reason it doesn’t matter what country it’s from is because there isn’t any dialogue in the movie. It’s not a silent film, strictly speaking. There is a lot of sound, there just isn’t any language. The sound design does add a great deal to the experience the film provides and the lack of language also allows the film to be universally accessible.

It begins with a man being stranded on an island. It’s tropical, has a large hill or small mountain, a small clearing in the tropical forest with a spring and fresh water and only small crabs as inhabitants until the man arrives. A giant red turtle visits, but doesn’t remain.

The man begins building a raft to escape, but it comes apart. He keeps trying and the rafts he builds keep failing. He notices that every time the raft fails the red turtle seems to be hanging around. Is the turtle preventing him from leaving? The man begins to resent and blame the turtle for his failures, but it’s not made clear whether or not that’s justified. In any event, the man believes it is at fault and plots to do something about it.

He catches it on the beach, hits it and flips it over on its back. He leaves it to die in the sun, but, after leaving for another part of the island, he is soon overcome with remorse, returns to the turtle and attempts to save it, but it’s too late; the turtle is dead. At this point, the movie makes a real turn and becomes more magical, meditative, and contemplative. I’d compare it to the old Warner Brothers cartoons where all of a sudden a character realizes they’ve left the solid earth behind and are walking on air. In this film, though, instead of falling the realization inspires it to soar.

It considers contentment, happiness, home, family… and probably more topics besides. The lack of dialogue leaves a great deal to the imagination and inclinations of the individual viewers. The director/writer, Dudok de Wit, has said that the movie is full of symbolism. It’s unquestionably true that at the point where the turtle is killed the movie moves from a fairly realistic story to something much more fantastic, though still grounded.

I won’t spoil the remainder of the movie. When I first watched it, I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. Which is not to say that it’s unclear if it’s well-made. It is a great animated film, that much was clear to me. But my feelings and opinions were harder to sort out. I think I do like it, but it’s worth watching regardless. It really is a great movie. A great work of cinema.

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