The 2016 animated film The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge/レッドタートル ある島の物語) is a stunning and thought-provoking work that leaves you mesmerized by its deceptively simple plot and minimalist approach to its visuals.
The film is very much back to basics when compared to the loud, CGI extravaganzas that are the norm today.
But The Red Turtle‘s visual calmness is the perfect contrast to what can be perceived as a provocative story. Provocative in the sense that one can take the film at face value or take the time to dive deeper into what the film may be offering.
The film opens with a man being shipwrecked on a deserted island after a terrible storm. The island is abundant with resources, including items he can use to make a bamboo raft.
Unfortunately, his attempt at leaving the island on the raft are thwarted by an unseen underwater creature. He tries again, but gets the same result. And it isn’t until the third attempt that he discovers the culprit is a giant red turtle.
Frustrated and resigned to the idea that maybe he is stuck on this island, he encounters a mysterious woman whom he eventually falls in love with. They soon give birth to a son and they continue living their lives on the island.
The Red Turtle features no dialogue. Director Michael Dudok de Wit and writer Pascale Ferran rely on the mostly hand drawn visuals to tell the story.
On the surface, the film is a basic story of survival. A man and eventually his family must learn to survive on this island. After some initial difficulties, they do. And we see the family age over a long period of time.
That on its own makes it an engaging film. The animation in all its simple, hand drawn glory is absolutely captivating. As simple as it is visually, there are still many striking details, big and small, that can be both delightfully amusing and mysteriously sinister. There is an ethereal quality to the proceedings that whisk you away to this island and doesn’t let go.
And that’s where the other part of the film experience comes in. A deeper look at The Red Turtle, if one wishes to dive in, reveals a thought-provoking allegory about life and human relationships. It is also possible to discuss humanity’s relationship with nature as well. And it obviously is open to as many interpretations as possible.
The Red Turtle features some fantastical elements. But much like the films of co-producer Studio Ghibli, those fantastical elements can open up a world of insightful and sincere ideas that linger long after the credits roll.
Ultimately, it is up to the viewer to decide how they want to view the film. And there’s definitely something for everyone to appreciate. With its stunning animation guiding the way, The Red Turtle captivates you with its simple story, yet pulls you in with its deeper symbolism.