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Drowning in Oscary Waters All Over the World

It's less than 4 days until we're drowning in it! I was called to task a bit for the tsunami image from The Impossible that greeted my first "days until" Oscar nominations post a week ago. I understand the charge of insensitivity and I'll admit it was a weird judgment call. But I have been feeling not just metaphorically deluged. There is so much literal fear or water / drowning on screens this film season. Have any of you noticed? It didn't hit me at first since it's not a particularly visceral fear for me... I've always loved the water.

Let's recount each dive in this year...

If Steven Soderbergh had filmed Life of Pi this would be the entire color palette!

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild -for Hushpuppy drowning is the end of the world, hurricanes as apocalypse. Those shots of drowned animals and her thoughts about them having no daddies? Heartbreaking. 
  • The Impossible - tells a true story of survival from the 2004 Thai tsunami. I still think it odd that it's visual effects and makeup did not make the finalists list for Oscars.
  • Skyfall -Adele's killer theme song kicks in just as James Bond plunges into the water, presumably to rest in a watery grave... or at least to sink into the trippy watery grave visuals of the opening credits
  • Oslo August 31st - this critical darling drama about an addict in recovery basically begins with the protagonist going all Virginia Woolf by loading his pockets with rocks and walking out into the water
  • Life of Pi - at the center of an ungainly expository drama, is a miniature visual masterpiece about a shipwreck and a tiger and boy sharing a boat alone in the vastness of the ocean
  • Jeff Who Lives at Home - stacks its coincidences one on top of the other to lead to a drowning rescue scene
  • The Dark Knight Rises -- death by exile (SPOILER) exile being an icy watery grave
  • Rise of the Guardians -- begins with an icy drowning
  • Moonrise Kingdom features a big storm and flood
  • Amour - has flooding but in which context we shouldn't say
  • Rust & Bone - Marion Cotillard loses her legs in a killer whale accident in France's Sea World and there is also a drowning terror sequence
  • Zero Dark Thirty -the waterboarding torture sequence is what keeps everyone talking though it's a tiny part of the movie. But still: horrific.


Last night, the Film Society at Lincoln Center showed two of the foreign language finalists (sort of*), Iceland's The Deep and Norway's Kon-Tiki, a double bill that was the equivalent of being tossed into the deep-end of this reccurrent theme. Both are true stories about men surviving the unsurvivable on ocean journeys. 

Iceland's Oscar entry The Deep comes from Baltasar Kormakur (of 101 Rejkvjavik, Hafid/The Sea, and Contraband fame). It's both poetically moody and crudely matter of fact somehow. It's steeped in the inky blackness you'd expect from an ocean story at night. (I'm so pleased my screener didn't work because I can't imagine being able to see it at all outside of the movie theater). Hell, even before we hit the water we're in Iceland at night so you can image the darkness. We follow a group of fishermen around as they drink and drink prior to their next voyage. The awful shipwreck occurs relatively early into the movie and for such a simple reason it's surprising that any fishermen live to die from old age. The drowning sequences were, for me, horrific in their calmness, like watching people casually negated as the darkness envelops them. The Deep unfortunately loses its frost-bitten footing  post-ocean trauma when there's a surprising amount of the movie left and we move into a sort of barely there invegistave procedura. But I appreciated The Deep for being very Icelandic (memories of volcanic eruption and a harsh life on the inky sea inform the drama throughout) and as a sort of shoestring non-magical-realist counterpoint to Life of Pi when a fat man begins to converse with a seagull, his only company.

Thor Heyerdhal (the real version) and Thor Heyerdahl (the movie version) played by Pål Sverre Valheim Hagen Norway's entry Kon-Tiki dramatizes the once very famous balsa wood raft ocean voyage of Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl. I say 'once' because two of my friends in their 20s that I spoke to about the movie had no idea who he was or that it was a true story. I knew the whole story from childhood since my parents had a thing for National Geographic magazines (we had a huge collection) and PBS documentaries -- I think I must have even seen Heyerdahl's self-mythologizing Oscar winning doc Kon-Tiki as a child at some point since the story was so familiar.

I sat down all excited to see the most expensive Norwegian movie ever made about one of the most famous Norwegians who ever lived about a story I knew and was immediately disappointed when everyone began speaking in English -- even in scenes set in Norway or between an entire cast of Norwegians (and one Swede). We definitely got off on the wrong foot this movie and I. As it turns out the filmmakers shot each scene twice, once in Norwegian and once in English and the version that's hitting Stateside theaters is, in fact, NOT the Oscar-competing film but it's English-language doppelganger. So most of us will never get to see the film that Oscar voters saw.

I came for a Norwegian adventure movie and got a strange hybrid film that seemed like a big budget Disney movie that had appropriated a foreign story. Maybe the acting was better in its native tongue? There was something about the coloring book simplistic character arcs and super accessible Movie-Movieness that made this very true story feel artificial, negating much of its power. As eye candy, though, the movie is really something, with the amazing beauty of both the Ocean and towheaded shirtless Norwegians exploited throughout. (And just like The Deep it makes an interesting counterpoint to Life of Pi . As in Ang Lee's picture there are scenes featuring bioluminscent marine biology, violent animal deaths, and mass flying fish suicides on a boat). C+

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References (18)

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Reader Comments (20)

You forgot about Daniel Craig's opening death plunge into the water, and the trippy title sequence it leads into.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Michael - what about the hurricane, the dam and the flood in "Moonrise Kingdom"?

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Jose - Oh, yeah. And I just remembered the excruciating near-drowning at the end of Rust and Bone. Nat might be onto something here.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

WHOA. thanks for those adds. now i'm even more impressed with my list!

January 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Hey Nathaniel...all is well and no harm done in regards to The Impossible photo...I must have been in a very honest place the other day with the Oscar blogging community...I called out Kris and Guy from InContention for unnecessarily barking at their readers...those two can really be crusty, ornery and condescending. Thankfully, you are kind and thoughtful to your audience, not to mention graceful and controlled even with your most challenging commenters.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSo Sue

I was actually referring to the kid falling through the ice, not the Sea World scene.

And as long as we've reopened the list.

RV plunges into the water in Cabin in the Woods, protagonist nearly gets held under by redneck zombie
Whatever is happening in the prologue of Prometheus
all of The Bay is about water being deadly - but not really to drown in, just to touch
isn't there a watery nightmare in Amour? I can't quite recall

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

Now that you bring "Rust and Bone" up I remembered the first sequence in "Rise of the Guardians" which recalls both the Audiard movie and the first scene in "Kon-Tiki". Let us know when to stop, Nat...

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

Two more...

Incredibly painful drowning scene near the end of The Grey

Ewan McGregor is left to drown at the end of Haywire

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.


The disgusting marshes in "The Woman in Black" (which I thought was very underrated)
The gross but very scary sewers of "Les Mis"
The deaths by plunging into the ocean from the awful "Dark Shadows"
In "Killing Them Softly" every time it rained someone got killed or beaten (I even asked the director about this and it had a purpose)
...and there's of course all of "Titanic 3D"

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJose

So there's this slow boat to China at the end of The Master...OK. That's it. I'm tapped out.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichael C.

I free associated this theme all the way to The Dark Knight Rises. When Bane takes over Gotham and a guilty person at their trail gets the choice of exile or death, which is death by exile and exile is essentially drowning under the ice. Too much of a stretch?

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

It was nice meeting you at the screenings! Sorry that I dissed The Deep-- talk about a movie and moviegoer not getting along, that one did not sit well with me at all. I guess I thought others would feel the same way. To me, the editing and choice of shots were all wonky to the point that we never got to know most of the fishermen, and the whole third act was really uninteresting to me. POSSIBLE SPOILER: I love that the answer to the research basically boiled down to "he was fat."

I enjoyed Kon-Tiki much more. I get what you mean about it feeling artificial, but the story is so interesting that I found myself invested. And boy, the man who plays Thor had a million dollar smile.

So now you've seen The Deep, Kon-Tiki, Amour, No, and A Royal Affair... am I missing anything? The Intouchables?

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Re The Kon-Tiki English-version release: Remember when the Weinsteins pulled the same thing 10 years ago with Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio, releasing the dubbed version in theaters while the Italian version was up for nomination? Ah, good times.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJ.P.

Evan - agreed that the third act of The Deep didn't work! Kon-Tiki is a lot more "watchable" in the traditional sense but it just rang false for me i guess. But certainly pretty and easy to watch (which does count for something). I'm so in love with "Knut" . wow.

i still haven't seen Romania, Canada, Switzerland and France. but of the ones I've seen it's easily

AMOUR - would be thrilled if this won
NO - would also be a thrilling winner
A ROYAL AFFAIR - hope it gets nominated
THE DEEP -- i see what it was going for. solid. 2/3rd of it work
KON-TIKI - not really for me. too much polish i think for such a real 'let's rough it' story.

January 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Hey, I was at that Lincoln Center double header too! I didn't care for The Deep. The shipwreck and its aftermath was good, but everything else just seemed flat and obligatory and very bla.

Kon-Tiki occasionally plays like a European parody of a Ron Howard film, but all in all I quite enjoyed it. I'd give The Deep a C+ and Kon-Tiki a B+. Well, maybe a B.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

On the water meme...

Battleship - Lots of watery grave there.
Cloud Atlas - Halle Berry's gets in run off a bridge and crashes into a river.
The Cabin in the Woods - The RV flies into the lake, complete with redneck zombie passenger.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

Mmm, yes. I loved Thor's smile, but I spent most of the time on the raft trying to decide if I liked "Knut" or "Erik" more. Apparently, Erik kept his shirt on the whole time because he has some serious tattoos. I guess that even the biggest budget in Norwegian film history couldn't cover those bad boys up...

I've seen the five you've seen plus The Intouchables. I'd rank them: No, A Royal Affair, The Intouchables, Kon-Tiki, Amour (I'm one of the 1% who've seen the movie who is not "in Amour" with Amour), and far behind the others, The Deep. But my favorite of the submissions is the woefully-snubbed Lore. Check it out when it hits theaters this February.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Evan -- are we sure it will? My least favorite thing about film distribution (among many least favorite things) is the way so many distributors buy the rights to foreign films and then pin all their release plans on highly presumptuous "it'll be Oscar nominated!" dreams. Often the plans get ditched. (sigh)

January 7, 2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I went and saw a long-lead advance screening of "Kon-Tiki" (it's not out here until April) and was incredibly disappointed to discover after the screening about the production making two versions. I was so confused during the film and it took me out of it somewhat. I definitely think it made the film come off as less authentic. If they're going to use the Golden Globe (and maybe the Oscar if it happens) nomination as a selling point then they need to release the original version. The version I saw was not the Golden Globe-nominated film.

January 7, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Well my favorite movie is Life of pie and The Dark Knight Rises ..this blog is really amazing..! i love this so much

December 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMaxwell

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