Monday 11 October 2021

Little Fish (2020)

I'm not sure if we needed another pandemic/virus film, but we got one here with the thought-provoking Little Fish which takes a slightly different route from many, focusing on memory loss. 

We've seen similar in the past of course with the likes of Memento or Before I Go to Sleep as well as a bunch of sci-fi stuff, but unlike many, this trades in some of that sci-fi emphasis for emotional impact wrapped up in a powerful love story, leaning more towards Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

There's a virus, called NIA, which is making huge numbers of the population lose their memory. To some, it happens in an instant, to others it evolves over time. It can be brought about by changes in their state of stress or situation but nobody seems to know if they're going to get it or not.

The impact of this can be catastrophic - like the airline pilot who suddenly forgets how to fly his plane with the obvious consequence - or for others, more like a dwindling Alzheimer's-style loss, slowly forgetting people around them, stuff they're supposed to be doing or who they are themselves. Laying aside the story of our two lovers, the whole concept is harrowing to watch as society crumbles and authorities try to keep a lid on chaos.

Most of the film is centred around our two leads, as Olivia Cooke (Sound of Metal, Thoroughbreds, Pixie) and Jack O'Connell (Godless, The North Water, 71) play Emma and Jude. A couple who's story we follow from early-on in their relationship, some gaps filled in by flashbacks for us, as a picture is painted of them being 'soul mates' - madly in love, living for each other. Made for each other! No, don't switch off - as it's really not a soppy, slushy love story but rather an emotionally powerful portrayal.

Emma is an English girl and vet in America, Jude is a musician-cum-photographer. He starts to lose his memory and we follow them as Emma tries every trick in the book to help him, work out trigger-systems, reminders, notes - as he is aware for most of the time of what is happening to him. Then an opportunity arises. There's a medical firm who think they've found a cure and they're looking for volunteers for the trial. The trial involves jamming a needle up through the roof of the mouth and into the brain to vent some pressure in a specific place. He's not keen!

They decide that he should go for it after much heart-wrenching but the clinic ultimately turn him down. So they decide to have a go themselves - all over the internet people have been circulating instruction videos of how to do it. She's a vet, so can get the gear needed. So they try. What could go wrong?

The film really is primarily an emotional roller-coaster ride as the audience lives their lives with them, their love, closeness and anxieties. It's so beautifully and powerfully portrayed by the quite superb Cooke and O'Connell. The cinematography is just stunning as the imagery supports the story in theme and style. Well thought out angles, lighting, focus and emphasis. As I often say of such class, many frames could be used as wall posters. Director Chad Hartigan pulls all this together expertly bringing the best out of the actors and story - I shall be keen to follow up on his future projects.

The supporting cast are more than competent as they fulfil their roles around the main two characters and add to the draining emotion of their own situations, some running in tandem with the plight of Emma and Jude's. There are also story-fillers going on around the main thread relating to Emma's mum back in England and some of Jude's previous friends which enhance our understanding and empathy. As you might expect, there are some twists and turns along the way but nothing too outlandish.

I think I'll hold it there (have probably said too much already) and let you soak up the atmosphere created for yourself. It is yes, another pandemic yarn, but it's done differently. The focus is much more about the impact on the lives of our two leads and not so directly the global chaos. I think Olivia Cooke has a great future ahead of her as every time I see her perform, she seems to get better. Move over Stephen Fry - we have a new National Treasure!

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