Directed by: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler
Having seen this recently and thinking I’d write about it today when I had some time to think I then realised that today is:
Day of the Imprisoned Writer
National Philanthropy Day (USA)
And thought ‘how fitting’.
One of the characters in this film is an imprisoned writer, though not in the traditional sense and seemingly of her own edifice but the root of her conditions are also linked to society. More on that later.
Day of the Imprisoned Writer is about authors who are likely to be/are persecuted for their work, all over the world political writers to poets are in danger and punished in many ways from surveillance, experimentation, imprisonment and death. PEN is an international organization that attempts to bring awareness to these issues and support such people.
‘Freedom to write, freedom to read’ – always check for the logo in books and if interested perhaps petition your favourite publishers to become PEN partners.
Looking at other reviews on this film it seems I’m in them minority in liking this film, perhaps because in this case I’m willing to overlook the ‘unrealistic’ plot (unusual circumstances are not usually a problem for me anyway) and plot holes because of the sincere (to me), witty storytelling and spirit.
Striving to be who you are, what you need to be and what you want to be
We’re treated to an animated (graphically) introduction by 11-year old Nim on the importance of stories in our lives and the loss of her mother:
‘That’s all my mother is to me now, just these stories…
‘The Oceanographer and the Great Blue Whale.’
Once upon a time, the oceanographer went out on the wide-open sea to find out what was in the stomach of the great blue whale. As my mother was staring into the mouth of the whale a mysterious ship came out of nowhere. It was called The Buccaneer Ship. It got much too close and it frightened the whale and the oceanographer was swallowed and taken by the sea. Dad felt that we should sail the ocean and look for that blue whale that, someday, that whale would bring her back to us. I think he just missed her. We both did.
By my 4th birthday, we had sailed around the globe, twice… Then one day, we found it. Our home.”
I think that really sets the scene for the film in addition to the opening line from her father:
“If we take care of our island Nim, our island will take care of us.”
Nim’s father is a marine biologist and following the death of her mother they decide to find a secluded, special place where they can live freely and peacefully – they are as self sustainable as possible but periodically a ship comes with supplies for things they can’t make/find themselves.
They are the only humans on ‘their’ island in the South Pacific and it truly makes a beautiful, charming and enchanting setting for the film. Nim is obviously home schooled and like those who in my own experience have had the benefit of such education is more able than her peers [would be] as well as more creative/having advanced vision (such as students from Steiner Schools). Her and her father’s lifestyle is mix in that they’ve gone ‘back to nature’ but with access to computers/electronic tools and seem to have found genuine contentment. Therefore they are very protective over their environment and Nim particularly wants to keep it just for them, perhaps she feels that any ‘trespass’ would disturb their balance, whilst I can understand that I do think that part of it is based on fear and the film illustrates it as the feeling she has under extreme duress.
Her father is obsessed with finding a rare/hypothetical plankton that he wants to name ‘Protozoa Nim’ (protozoa – being simple and/or single cell organisms, essentially containing apparently earliest traces of life), it seems to be his life work and so he goes off on one of his trips to find one, this time his gut feeling will win out, surely… He tries to get Nim to accompany him because he’ll be gone for two nights but she’s determined to stay and guard her sea-turtle friend’s birth since the previous year only one of the eggs survived. Nim has numerous animal friends including Chica the turtle, Fred the bearded dragon lizard who rides on her shoulder, Selkie the sea lion (I like that name since Selkie is the Celtic and old English word for seal or more specifically seals that shapeshift into humans/humanoids) and Galileo the pelican – all of the animals have helped her growth as a person and education in fundamental ways.
Nim is one of those children (modern and/or free spirited) who calls her parent by their name instead of title i.e. ‘Jack’, a practice which for all intents and purposes suits her practical nature, can you imagine trying to find your parent in a crowd by calling ‘Mum!’ ‘Dad!’ And having probably half the crowd turn to you in askance and not just because you’re a shouting fool 😉
On the other hand, in San Francisco, a very famous author called Alex Rover (Nim’s favourite author) writes about a protagonist of the same name; a fearless, brave and quintessential adventurer, the exact opposite of the author. The real Alex is agoraphobic (doesn’t like to leave her house, scared of travelling) and germophobic but thanks to technology doesn’t have to leave her precious and sanitary house. Interestingly enough and perhaps strange to some but Nim refers to her and Jack’s situation as a ‘scientist’s life’ which I can understand in old science, having understanding yet living harmoniously but Alex’s lifestyle is far more the modern scientist, clinical and sterile. How are the characters connected? Alex is able to write her novels by communicating with others and their research and so writes to Jack but she’s on the cusp of serious change whether she likes the process or not.
During Jack’s trip a storm breaks and in the bleakness that follows all he and Nim have are faith and determination. Additionally one of the bain’s of water expanses aka a cruise ship has decided the island will make a great excursion destination, and we quickly see how a pristine island looks as a tourist beach. Can Nim save her island from mass tourism and successfully reach out to those she loves at the same time?
“The world was designed to help people find each other” – Anita, ‘Read or Die’ (anime)
Especially with the internet.
When the ship comes into sight Nim feel’s the paradise is being invaded and is reminded of the story of her mother and the blue whale so she embarks on a mission to make the island seem unattractive and offputting. Jack is AWOL so she has to grow up some more but unfortunately gets injured, how is she going to manage and how can Alex help her?
The setting of the story was probably easier for many to watch as a fantasy but the onset of events (which I won’t describe) were probably harder to believe or stay with for many but I saw them as symbolic for transformation, doing what has to be done and ‘character development’ (which so many find important).
Like some authors I’ve come across Alex’s fictional character is a form of alter ego, semi-visceral, ethereal and acts either as a ghostly presence or conscience/mirror; he urges Alex to be more like him, more like the hero she and other others need/want her to be. Ironically her writing is so pervasive that people think her the living embodiment of the protagonist i.e. that she is a he and real rather than image. She shows the greatest growth in this film, not only does she have to persuade everybody that she is indeed ‘the’ Alex Rover, a writer, but she also has to become the adventurer they expect. Her journey to find Nim is the most fantastic and each stage sees her dropping or losing boundaries/trappings/crutches, layer after layer she escapes/lets go of inhibitions, fears, doubts and perceived safety nets, risking it all, for what? A dream? A stranger/girl across the ocean who admires and needs her and feels inexplicably connected to? Her challenges are both physical and mental, striving for something spiritual. She’s going for what seems impossible.
Jack is also trying to get home to Nim, despite anything and everything that happens he is sure, failure is not an option.
The ties that bind together the storytelling
This seems to be the area that really let people down and incurred a mixed/negative reception. There are some scenes that are ‘too much’ such as the lengths characters go to, I think they fit in with the target audience of the film and the genre(s). Another criticism some have is the use of sfx/cgi e.g. with the animals, being a person that doesn’t support the use of animals I have no problem with having to animate/accentuate their behaviour and I thought their antics/assistance delightful, I would have had problems with the mass lizard catapulting scene otherwise (reminding me of an old film where they ran over a goose’s tail and practically through other birds and numerous other examples).
Our neurotic author garners disdain as well since she really does throw herself in at the deep end pushing her limits in a way that most people wouldn’t/couldn’t but the drama in this film allows for that – she loses everything to gain everything.
Water is symbolic of transformation (and indeed purification, as is fire), travel and doors/portals hence space (the cosmos) is often referred to as a sea/ocean and death as a river so I find it fitting that so much happens in the water, because of it, it’s changing (violent/peaceful) nature and them living on an island. Apart from the volcano scenes I liked the underwater ones the most, not quite as awe inspiring or even transcendental as other films – even the old film She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) – but still perfectly representing both the force; attraction/repulsion between bodies e.g. the distance, and pull/barrier between people.
The soundtrack isn’t too obvious but noticeable in a background enhancing way, at times raising in crescendo but never taking over and is purely instrumental (I think it’s quite precarious determining suitability for vocal or even pop songs in films, and the inclusion of those would have lightened the mood a tad too much here).
There are many great quotes although I’ve tried to limit them to the most poignant imo to save the significance for if/when you watch it 🙂 and if little else the script does credit to the film in conjunction to some of the acting which is quite hammy and akin to gesticulating whilst talking. I liked that and thought it added a comic element making the whole thing more watchable and maintaining good pace. Jodie Foster is a fine actress and hasn’t failed to impress in the films I’ve seen her in, I’m used to her playing serious and sometimes gritty roles but here she has an element of physical comedy, ‘lighthearted’ yet dramatic grandstanding with underlying gravity – a type of acting I mostly remember her using in Bugsy Malone (1976) but there as a cynical minx, here it was gratifying to see her play a themed character again and so well (and as an adult rather than child creepily playing sexualized adult). Gerard Butler plays both Jack and the fictional Alex, doing so quite convincingly though both are gregarious. He doesn’t feature as much as Nim and the real Alex but at least he changes his accent between roles and I liked hearing a bit of ‘Scottishness’ from him! Abigil Breslin does a heartfelt job as Nim, a girl who is not really alone and yet is quite solitary and scared; strong yet vulnerable and the obvious hero of the story who is fighting desperately hard to save the island, its inhabitants, the people she loves, herself and the entire environment of ‘home/safety’.
I can relate in ways to all of the characters and think that viewers can do the same particularly with Nim and Alex – even if it means having to remove their circumstances first to try and understand what they’re going through. If that is still too unlikely at least we can look at Nim’s Island as a ‘decent fantasy flick’ although to many ‘nothing special’. I don’t think it has to be different or benchmark to be special, I can see why people expected an immersive/grandiose epic given the cast/setting/current standards but like the film Bridge to Terabithia (2007) I think this story is more about the characters involved and what they go through internally/how they feel though BoT also emphasized how we can affect/effect the environment around us and is more ‘slice of life’.
I haven’t read the book by Wendy Orr or seen the sequel but I am interested now due to this film. I appreciate the way that Nim and Jack’s surname is ‘Rusoe’ like Robinson Crusoe and hence linking to Swiss Family Robinson however those are more serious and survivalist, the latter being academic and in the storytelling the thematic difference being that those stories were about people lost/travelling to a strange place(s) whereas Nim’s Island is already home and is ultimately a ‘feel good’ film despite the hardship.
Sometimes the unlikeliest of people become/have to be heroes because even the strongest of us need help, who will save the heroes if the people they care for don’t respond?
‘Be the Hero in Your Own Life Story.’