Little Fish: Just Keep Swimming, by David Bax
Reteaming with cinematographer Sean McElwee, Chad Hartigan gives us, in his new movie Little Fish, a muted, overcast, crepuscular vision of the Pacific Northwest. It is, admittedly, not an uncommon look but not only is it beautifully pulled off in this case, it’s also quite fitting to the movie’s blend of melancholy and hope.
Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) are a young couple, married in the year 2021 and making a comfortable living as a veterinarian and a photographer, respectively. But a mysterious disease is appearing all over the world that induces amnesia. When it starts to effect Jude, we watch the couple attempt to navigate their future together while flashbacks clue us in on their past.
With its very-near-future setting, Little Fish is what might be called “soft sci-fi.” The experimental treatment for which Jude attempts to volunteer has a strong whiff of the genre but mostly screenwriter Mattson Tomlin (adapting a short story by Aja Gabel) uses the conceptual aspects as an entry point into emotional and psychological explorations.
Some of the best movies of all time (including just about every film ever directed by Alain Resnais) have been about memory. The nature of a moving image–clear, coherent and yet ungraspable and always disappearing–is perfectly suited to capturing our relationship to our own remembrances.
Little Fish‘s narrative structure most specifically recalls another great memory movie, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But Hartigan, ultimately, is less concerned with the mutable nature of memories than in their utility for both commemoration and mourning, marking our lived events as important while simultaneously being painful reminders that those moments are gone forever. The obstacles faced by Emma and Jude might be slightly far-fetched but the hard truth is that people and relationships change all the time, mysterious virus or not. Attempting to hold on to the previous version of a person or a marriage is likely to cause more anguish than learning to adapt.
With a plaintive, synthy score by the incomparable Keegan DeWitt (who, in addition to Hartigan, has provided great music for the likes of Aaron Katz and Alex Ross Perry), Little Fish seems to be foreshadowing a funereal conclusion to Emma and Jude’s life together. Like the poor, stray dogs that Emma has to euthanize at work, perhaps they’ve just run out of time. But, then again, Hartigan has thus far in his career proved to be a committed humanist. Leave it to him to find a silver lining behind all those gray clouds.