Leviathan Will Float Your Boat

If you’re a fan of Deadliest Catch, Whale Wars, or Lobstermen, new documentary Leviathan will definitely float your boat.

From innovative documentary makers Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, the Leviathan movie follows a fishing trawler and its crew through the violent chop of the Massachusetts coast, capturing the day-to-day action and surprising beauty of life at sea. Unusual for a documentary, there is no narration. Instead, the shots are left to speak for themselves, with the filmmakers choosing point-of-view and subjective shots to really immerse the viewer in the action.

Castaing-Taylor and Paravel use relatively affordable digital cameras, popular with surfers and sportsmen, to capture extraordinary images, strapping them to masts, hulls, and even fisherman as they haul in nets, chop fish, and shuck clams. The fishermen themselves remain largely anonymous, letting their scars, tattoos, and weathered skin tell their personal stories. One memorable scene shows an extreme close-up of one fisherman working below decks, his wrinkled and haggard face passive as rock music blasts from an unseen radio behind him. The scene contrasts the man’s commitment to his work with the chaos of his environment.

Another astonishing moment, taken from an underwater camera, captures an enormous swarm of starfish in a feeding frenzy, racing toward the giant net engulfing the evening’s catch. The starfish cling en masse to the trapped fish, almost making an outer net with their number. There are several scenes shot from under the water, with the fixed camera often breaking the surface to observe great flocks of gulls racing alongside the boat. Fish are seen from a holding pen, gasping their last breaths, fish heads are tossed to the floor or overboard, and shots taken from along the rail of the boat show gallons of blood or pounds of unwanted catch being dumped out of a spillway. No judgment is made on these actions; they are simply recorded as a part of the process.

Programs such as Deadliest Catch and Lobstermen have already taken us aboard trawlers to meet the men and women who brave dangerous waters looking for a big score. While the Leviathan movie is certainly different, its impact is lessened by our familiarity with the industry. Leviathan may seem a bit slow-paced in comparison to the quick cuts and energetic characters of its reality show cousins, but by immersing the audience in the environment like never before, the film certainly maintains interest. It’s a beautifully made film and best enjoyed by sitting back, rolling with the tide, and taking it all in.

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