"It is a place for being, not doing.
For the most part you just watch.
You feel the sun on your skin.
You do the things God intended."
— Helen Stevenson
Tropical islands are very special places. As we are immersed in sun and sea, they remind us that it is possible to spend our days living in sync with the coming of the light and the falling of darkness. As Helen Stevenson writes, islands are holy places that teach us that we can enjoy the pleasures of being, not doing.
Beaches beckon us and speak to us about beginnings and endings. They remind us we are part of the evolutionary movement from water to land and air. Islands tutor us in the art of being present and hallowing both the wonder of tranquility and the destructiveness of storms and hurricanes. Islands help us shed our skins, change, and simplify our lives.
The Red Turtle is Studio Ghibli's (My Neighbor Totoro, Ponyo, Spirited Away, Howl's Moving Castle, Princess Monoke) premier co-production directed by the London-based animator Michael Dudok de Wit. Harvesting the time and talent of a legion of French animators, this creative filmmaker asks us to follow the adventures of a castaway who is tossed from his boat and washed up on a beach. He must figure out how to survive on an island of lush vegetation, thick forests, and rock walls. The 80-minute film has no dialogue yet manages to immerse us in the story of his daily experiences.
The first thing to note about the nameless man is that he really misses the daily contact with other human beings. So much so that he regularly screams while caught up in the squeeze of loneliness. The first creature to make contact with him is a sand crab which skitters up his leg. Exploring the island, he accidentally falls into a cave filled with a pool of water. After panicking, he is able to swim out.
In his vivid dream life, he imagines a bridge across the ocean, then a string quartet playing classical music on the beach. Yearning for civilization, he decides to build a raft out of bamboo from the forest. In repeated attempts to leave, a large red turtle smashes his homemade vessel and he must return to the island. He captures this animal, and she shapeshifts into a woman who has an agenda that turns out to be very appealing to both of them.
In order not to spoil the magical developments of the film, we will end our outline of the plot here. Suffice it to say — anyone who has been enchanted by islands is sure to leave the theatre with a fresh appreciation of their beauties and the mysteries they contain.