“Fish Tank” was written and directed by Andrea Arnold. It is a gritty, disturbing coming-of-age story for Mia played by Katie Jarvis, a fifteen year old girl who wishes to be a dancer but lacks raw talent and makes up for it with raw attitude against everyone in her life until the introduction of her mother’s new boyfriend, Connor played by Michael Fassbender makes a major impact on her life.
First off, I never deciphered the title. Why Fish Tank? There is a fish in it and some swimming in the water but at no point did I feel this girl was trapped in her life and while she maintained a bit of routine aka swimming in circles, I felt she went through a great deal of journey and changing up of her habits due to new circumstances introduced into her environment so….why?
Next, the main character Mia is almost impossible to like. The biggest problem is that she is difficult to understand when she is speaking and at least 25% of her lines were lost. She is hostile and spews bile out of her mouth at anyone who even glances at her the wrong way. The littlest thing sets her off and even when someone takes a chance on her and shows her attention, tries to get her to smile and encourages her to pursue her goals, she’ll turn on them in a heartbeat. Granted, not everyone here is deserving of good behavior, in fact all the characters have a dark streak in them and rub each other the wrong way, but her temper is so explosive that it becomes difficult to make excuses for her purely based on environment and genetics. She has a few fleeting moments of happiness and has a very pretty smile in those rare moments but she never holds on to it and pushes it away as if it makes her vulnerable. This is one tough cookies, almost inaccessible to anyone who speaks to her until a particularly hot older man breaks her down.
All that being said, Katie Jarvis’ first movie role as Mia was pretty amazing. The unsentimental presence that she stays guarded with throughout is consistent and compelling for a new performer. Her own dream is to be able to dance but her stiff movements and lack of a gift for rhythm makes all of her moves, no matter how rehearsed seem forced and unnatural. She is extremely defensive and secretive about her dream until she lets another character deeper into her life. The peeling away of the layers and slowly exposing the depths of her character also reveals ulterior motivations of the others in her family. Jarvis’ talent is proven in how unsettling the movie feels until the eventual mild, calm ending.
The most enjoyable (if there is something to enjoy here) part of the movie was Michael Fassbender as Connor. Obviously he is an attractive man shirtless but he has an effortless charm and walks the line perfectly between responsible adult and possible lech for a minor. You can’t tell what side he is leaning towards because all of his actions and remarks can be seen in both lights and it really keeps you guessing throughout. Either way, the impression is given that he cares about Mia for some reason and encourages her to help her succeed and perhaps the factor that he might be the only person to do that for her wrapped up in a sexy package feeds Mia’s hidden desire for him.
The story was riveting and difficult to look away from. It ties your insides up into a knot and stays that way for the two hour duration and is so disturbing that it sticks with you and I have a stomach ache sitting here immediately afterward. The acts were well set up gradually increasing the stakes and suspense and a few scenes I couldn’t look away even if I wanted to! The shaky cam was only occasionally distracting and overall served the movie well for realism. The lighting was not always lit in such a way that you could see the characters and the experimentation with light and shadow and focus made the reality take on a different feel adding suspense and confusion. Using these techniques, the film takes on the feel of a waking nightmare while displaying a window into British lower-class.