The Red Turtle is an all-encompassing type of experience. Without a single word spoken, it finds meaning in the vast landscapes of the human experience. There is simply nothing quite like it. If last year brought us the quirky art-house animated film Anomalisa, this year brings us a ravishing soul-searching experience in The Red Turtle, provoking more thought and is more attuned to the senses and emotions than any other animated film this year. There is desolation and comfort, within a disquieting silence of a lonely world and the beauty of its very isolation, that forsakes and restores it’s protagonist. A shifting, surreal and vigourous exploration in our search for life’s meaning, The Red Turtle is as undefinable as it is a meditative experience.
It’s easy talking about The Red Turtle because the premise doesn’t give anything away. A man finds himself shipwrecked (presumably) on an island that is pretty much cut off from any form of civilization. Little crabs and their curious and hilarious personalities give the movie provide some light-hearted sillyness in the face of what appears to be a very dire situation. There is no manipulation in the film. And that’s what really gets me into the film. Everything seems so raw and natural. Our protagonist doesn’t speak a word and only mutters and grunts between catching his breath, but his reactions to strange and foreign stimuli is completely human. Michael Dudok De Wit is very much in tune with our nature and the nature that we inhabit, as even the physical look of his film is a sight to behold. It’s simplistic in style and not very well detailed, but he nails the look perfectly. De Wit doesn’t create environments that look realistic. He creates the environment based on what his character, a tired and forlorn castaway, might see. And surpringly, the stripped down look feels so natural, almost too natural in ways that remind me of what I would see staring in the night sky or at the warm evening sky through towering canopies. Coupled with the resonant soundtrack, De Wit has lifted us beyond the beauty of the aesthetic to the beauty of an experience.
While it may be beautiful, The Red Turtle certainly provides a number of melancholic sequences and heart-wrenching situations. Most of it, though, relies heavily on elucidating the idea of ‘life’ and ‘existence’ as naturally as possible without the need for dialogue, plot contrivances and heavy imagery. It is testing your patience and your willingness to subject yourself through an uncertain narrative-Much like how the protagonist is subject to life’s mysterious ways and the tides that catch him in its waves, sweeping him along its unknowable currents. At once a corporeal drama about our earthly existence and a surreal passage of life, The Red Turtle is immensely provocative, heartfelt and achingly beautiful.