I was pretty “meh” on this after I saw it last night – largely because of my own lack of tolerance for trashy, unpleasant British people – but it’s really sitting well with me this morning.
As you guys pointed out, Michael Fassbender’s performance as Connor is fantastic, and he’s easily the most fascinating character in the film, but I think my impression differs from yours about exactly what that character’s all about.
I think I remember Tom saying that he thought Connor wasn’t actually predatorial, or even a bad guy, but just kind of an idiot, well-meaning but incapable of controlling his baser urges. I don’t think that’s the case. What happens to him is more complicated.
We don’t really know what happened between Connor and his wife, but when we meet him in the movie, he’s left his family (presumably of his own volition) and is slumming it with the first trashy slut he meets. He’s a bad husband, in other words… but his natural ease with both Mia and her little sister shows that he’s still an excellent father figure.
Connor himself seems to realize this: it’s very striking how, in the film, he seems least comfortable when he’s around just Mia’s mother, and instead orchestrates scenarios where he can spend time with the girls. It seems like he’s not only most at ease in a fatherly role, but that part of the reason he becomes so attached to Mia and her little sister is because he misses his own daughter (with whom he obviously has a very close relationship, regardless of the present circumstances.)
I think what ends up happening to Connor is situational. He sleeps with Mia, but he doesn’t just do it because he’s drunk, or a scumbag. There’s nothing predatorial about it. It’s a reactive act of deep emotional confusion. He’s spent the last week living in a cramped apartment, power fucking Mia’s mother a cardboard-thin wall away from where the youngest daughter sleeps. All the girls run around half-dressed, even the mother. Everyone has roughly the same level of maturity, in that everyone in that house is innocent, but it’s almost impossible to see under all the brashness. In that same apartment, he goes to drunken parties where adults openly finger each other in the kitchen as little girls themselves booze and smoke upstairs. Connor is clearly a more classy guy than Mia’s family, and for the first time ever, he’s put into this environment filled with people who don’t think, but live a life based entirely on chaos and reaction. Everything around him is seeped in equal measure of innocence and sex… and this profoundly affects Connor.
In other words, Connor suddenly finds himself in a tiny environment in which everything mixes together – sex and naivete and childhood and primal emotion in equal measure. The people around him are the fish, creatures who largely navigate the ebb of these currents on reactive instinct.
What I think happens to Connor in this environment is that his instinct to be a father becomes temporarily confused with his sexual identity, which and so he sleeps with Mia, who is just as confused about the link between fatherhood and sexuality as he is. I think it is to Connor’s great credit that he leaves the next morning: he is clearly an introspective character, and what happened with Mia has horrified him, in part because of what it could possibly mean in relation to his own daughter as she gets older. He hasn’t just betrayed Mia but betrayed the best part about himself. The incident startles and shocks him into going home and reconciling with his wife.
Even so, I think it’s pretty obvious Connor is deeply disturbed by what happened between him and Mia, and heartbroken about having betrayed her trust in him as a father figure. He leaves without a word because there’s simply nothing to say. When Mia tracks him down to his house he drives her back to the train station, the kiss he gives her isn’t sexually charged at all: it’s the kiss of a deeply repentant person who knows he’s not only broken a heart trusted to him, but betrayed a surrogate daughter.
In the end, though, this turns out to still be a positively transformative experience for Mia, which I think is one of the things I think is smartest about Fish Tank. It’s not a film about a predatorial older man ruining a young girl’s life, which is what a less intelligent film would have been about given the same premise. It’s really about how Connor becomes a father figure to a lonely and very confused girl, sleeps with her, and somehow manages to save her anyway.
It’s all about that slap in the field, in which father Connor is finally able to impart to Mia that knowing who you really are is the only way she can ever escape the life her mother and sister are consigned to. She learns to think, and not just react. She learns consequences. She stops being just an id. She becomes a person. By the time the horse dies, she knows that to simply feel in chaos and just as chaotically react is to drown in her own life. By the end of the film, she’s at peace with her family and is off to Wales of her own calm volition, with the strong inference (the volume of her luggage, which her sister comments upon, as well as the family’s reaction to her departure) that she’s not coming back. Mia escapes.
There’s a lot more to praise about the film and there’s just so many stunningly real scenes and characters to note. For example, Connor’s almost magical capture of the live fish, or the scene in which Mia’s little sister watches “Britain’s Got Talent” while drinking, smoking a cigarette and calling all the contestants prats. The chase through the field, and that single, perfect slap. Or the poignancy of the scene in which Mia, so confused and upset about the revelation that Connor already has a daughter, doesn’t know what to do or how to react except by pulling down her pants and urinating hysterically on the rug. Ultimately, though, I think my thoughts on the film are just as chaotic, reactive and hard to vocalize as Mia’s own thoughts about her life… to the great credit of the actors, director and screenwriter involved.
Fish Tank certainly isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – hell, it wasn’t even my cup of tea until I slept on it – but I’m really glad I got to see it. Thanks for the recommendation, guys.
PS: Was Fish Tank in a 4:3 aspect ration theatrically too?