38. Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold

38. Fish Tank, directed by Andrea Arnold

Just Keep Swimming

By Rose Marel

Mia (Katie Jarvis) dares you to judge her. Because if you do, you’ll assume that she’s rough, most definitely tough, and probably not one that you want to mess with. You’d think that she’s not one who needs looking after, nor one to be steered or run over. She’s a free agent, a wild thing, someone who’s up to no good.

You’d be leaning towards the truth, but mainly, you’d be wrong. Really, it’s a mien she shoves from herself and onto others, like an aggressive refraction that starts and ends with her. It’s an act of self-preservation, because if you judge this book by its cover, then you’ll surely miss all of the vulnerabilities that cower beneath. That’s not to say that Mia doesn’t possess those overtly confrontational characteristics (boy, does she), but that they’re just one of the more violent hues in her rainbow of shades.

Mia is fifteen but could be much older for all the cursing and makeup she hides behind. She’s a solitudinarian in a lonely, grim housing estate – a fishtank of dead ends. It’s the depressing reality of the English lower-end, where little girls smoke and drink, and where flats are stained with the tedium of the working class. Arnold lays this all down with a no-nonsense realist style, concerned more with sordid truth than exaggerated visuals. The environment isn’t highlighted so much as just there, the graffitied and grey backdrop of everyday life. Steering clear of distinct landmarks, Arnold strands us smack-bang in the blank centre of struggle.

Although more than struggle, perhaps, is an air of apathetic acceptance. It’s a world of expletive-driven kids who echo their mothers, caked in makeup and slagging off the contestants of trashy TV shows. It is what it is, and it’s all they’ve ever known. For Mia, the only thing that seems to interest her is dancing. Even then, it’s a hidden, vodka-soaked affair that derives solely from a needs-based leak of raw energy. Kicked out of school and with no direction or mentorship, dancing morphs from her immediate psychological escape to a greater pining for an eventual, physical one.Image result for fish tank andrea arnold

Despite the outlet, Mia drifts alone without a familial shepherd to guide her. Then the charismatic Connor enters the picture. Connor (the eternally incredible and always watchable Michael Fassbender) starts dating Mia’s mother, a frequently drunk and volatile figure. Previously, the bond between Mia, her young mum and her little sister is a barely intact one, and connection is a luxury unknown to the teen. Thus, Connor becomes not only a new, important person in her so-called ‘family’, but perhaps more crucially, the string that slowly begins binding them. Charismatic, masculine and fun, the pull of Connor is a powerful one, and one that he no doubt realises…

In my eyes, Michael Fassbender’s acting is never out of step, and he’s as believable as ever here. His portrayal mixes a protective paternalism with playfulness, and something else that gathers beneath it all. His natural sexuality cannot be blamed, but when it’s potentially underpinned by a sinister edge, then we’re forced to question his motives.

Unflinching and honest, Fish Tank is a gripping and bleak echo of life and our need for attachment and purpose. In her first role, Jarvis (who was scouted having a fight at a train station) epitomises human contradiction, suggesting that we should shun assumptions. Jarvis fabulously manifests the uncertainty of adolescence as she pivots between emotions, and the lack of trust that pulls her back and strains against her craving for affection. Rather than judge her as wild herself, maybe she’s just controlled by something wild, and that something is really just humanity.

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