The Red Turtle: Life, its Solitude, and Turtles

The Red Turtle.

Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit collaborating with Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli brings us a film featuring solitude, the questioning of life goals and the purpose of us being here, companionship, being the outcast and probably living the life we always imagined we would.

The Red Turtle (org. fr: La tortue rouge) is one of the most beautiful films that I have seen in the recent past. This is how a simple life story can be combined with profound reflections and complex ideas. A man manages to survive a storm at sea, where his boat capsizes and he ends up being marooned on an island, where he is alone and must fend for himself. As this unnamed person (which right at the outset makes this a brilliant film, as a character’s ‘name’ no longer remains necessary to identify them), begins to explore his surroundings, looking at what he can do both to survive and to find a way out of this forced solitude.

After multiple attempts at trying to build a raft to escape the world of the island, his raft is broken up by the ‘force of nature’ that perhaps doesn’t want him to escape. Third time around, as he is attempting to escape, he comes face to face with the Red Turtle, a majestic animal, who is floating in the ocean and is the cause of his failed attempts. The Turtle and this man stare into each other’s eyes, looking to test how far this battle of wills can take them. The man recoils and returns to the island.

The Red Turtle.

The Red Turtle.

As the Red Turtle follows the man back ashore, this is when things come to a head. The man, in seeking revenge turns the Turtle upside down, depriving him of water and his basic ability to find his way back into the ocean. Obviously, with no escape and/or access to the ocean and the water that he needs and craves, the Turtle becomes unresponsive and is presumed dead.

Something unique follows, as the Turtle can no longer be found and instead the man finds is a woman inside the Turtle’s shell. This becomes the start of a new beginning, a shared beginning for this man who finds his reason to live and stay on the island.

The two come together, bring a child into the world and live as a regular family, busy living day to day. The island is their home and the creatures of the ocean, especially a group of three green turtles, their extended social circle.

An important aside is the subplot of these five to eight crabs who are often seen, playing, chasing each other, trying their luck with the food that the humans find and whatever else. Their sub-plot is fascinatingly humorous and incredibly creative.

The Red Turtle.

The Red Turtle.

A cyclone that threatens the core of their life and surroundings brings lots of things into question. It’s also time when a realization dawns that all children must leave their nest. The son decides to leave the island and with his three green turtle friends, as his floating companions, he leaves his home.

A film experience that uses no dialogue and incorporates brilliant sound effects (including some amazing foley), can satisfy you to the core. That’s what The Red Turtle is. It makes you wonder about life, question why we are and how we are special and leaves you feeling one with the story of this unnamed man.

Watch it for all of the above and the brilliant animation of a deserted island in the lap of the stunning natural world. 

Nominated for an Oscar for best animated feature, The Red Turtle is now playing in theatres.