Finally Saw Leviathan

Not that one. The other one. But not that cool short with the flying whale either*.

The documentary. That one.

Er, this one.

Here’s the math on it:

(Deadliest Catch + Cloverfield) x (GoPro / Salvador Dali) = Leviathan

This has been on my list since Jeremy Smallwood first sent me the 2013 trailer — which is a pretty good encapsulation of the entire film.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I’m still processing it.

Well, by processing I mean dealing with nausea.

<<spoilers below>>

It starts off at night. It’s dark. You don’t know where you are. A fishing trawler? I guess so. But there’s no establishing shot. It’s like experimental Kubrick, but with inner sea instead of outer space.

There are wave sounds and lights and water. And the drone whine of an engine, and then you see thick colorful ropes like from a car wash being pulled from the ocean. Fish. So many fish. All bulging eyes and fins, slippery sides flapping and sliding.

A voice like Charlie Brown’s disembodied teacher is amplified from somewhere.

“No! No! No! Get back! No!”

You see men working with cigarettes in their faces and ink in their arms. These are not fun quirky seafaring characters. They are a work detail. Rubber gloves and knives and blood. They don’t speak. They stare into the void, and repeat muscle memory.

Pry and cut and slice and toss.
Pry and cut and slice and toss.
Pry and cut and slice and toss.

A bird is trying to climb up a crate. The camera is practically on its back. The bird can’t fly. Why can’t it fly? We watch it struggle. Finally it moves along the deck and disappears down off the side. Where did it go? What was wrong with it?

We watch a fish head on the deck as the boat rocks back and forth. For six minutes we are watching a fish head with its flat round dead eyes. We are waiting just waiting for it to slide out of frame until it does.

The camera rests in a shallow tank. Fish slide past the lens and bang into it, mouths and guts and eyes and blood.


There is no VO. No POV. This is unfiltered document.

Sting rays. Why are there so many sting rays? Where did they come from? Aliens. Two men with faces we don’t see hack one to pieces. Just slice it and tear it apart. And then we cut to other rays just scattered on the deck, their mouths gaping, their faces like silent wet ghosts. Eventually they are kicked into the sea.

A man watches tv. We can’t see the tv. We can only hear it. And it isn’t anything. But we are watching a man watch tv. There are haphazard dishes on the table in front of him and a roll of paper towels lying on its side, and we can see the man breathing. It is mundane perfection, so wonderfully banal. Nothing is happening. Jarmusch meets a restrained Korine.

The camera is placed underwater near the surface alongside the ship. Blood and bait and chunks and parts are being dumped into the sea off the deck. The camera breaks the surface for a moment and there are gulls, hundreds of gulls. It’s an incredible shot. It is the whole circle/circus of life caught in the maelstrom of water and air. The birds are feeding, diving into the water eating bits of fish. The sound alone is worth an Oscar.

Bottom line I’m pretty sure this is a great film even though I had to fast forward through a lot of it. It is a brutal meditation. And it is as much a pure documentary as it is a total art house acid trip.