Click to Skip Ad
Closing in...
Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody Watch: Ellen Page And Kate Mara Are 'Tiny Detectives' In Hilarious 'True Detective' Parody 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood 10 Female Directors Who Deserve More Attention From Hollywood Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" Miles Teller Says Role In 'Divergent' Made Him Feel "Dead Inside," And He Took Movie "For Business Reasons" First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" First Look At 'The Dying Of The Light,' Paul Schrader Quits Film Over What Nicolas Winding Refn Calls "Artistic Disrespect" New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' New Images From 'Interstellar' Arrive, Christopher Nolan Says The Film Is A "Mirror" Of 'Inception' Watch: New Trailer For ‘Kingsman: Secret Service’ Starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson & Taron Egerton Star Watch: New Trailer For ‘Kingsman: Secret Service’ Starring Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson & Taron Egerton Star Chilly New Banner For Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Explores A Cold New World Chilly New Banner For Christopher Nolan's 'Interstellar' Explores A Cold New World 15 Films That Failed To Hit The 2014 Fall Festival Circuit 15 Films That Failed To Hit The 2014 Fall Festival Circuit Watch: Steven Soderbergh Re-Scores And Changes Steven Spielberg's 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' To Black-And-White Watch: Steven Soderbergh Re-Scores And Changes Steven Spielberg's 'Raiders Of The Lost Ark' To Black-And-White Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack Watch: Have A Threesome With Very NSFW Clip From 'Maps To The Stars' With Julianne Moore & John Cusack First, Mostly Rave Reviews Arrive For David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' First, Mostly Rave Reviews Arrive For David Fincher's 'Gone Girl' Watch: New Hilarious Red-Band Trailer For 'The Interview' Starring Seth Rogen And James Franco Watch: New Hilarious Red-Band Trailer For 'The Interview' Starring Seth Rogen And James Franco Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki Fantastic Fest Review: Hitman Thriller 'John Wick' Starring Keanu Reeves, Willem Dafoe & Adrianne Palicki 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 'Deadpool’ Spin-Off With Ryan Reynolds Is Finally Green Lit, Set For A Winter 2016 Release Date 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders 10 Films We Haven’t Yet Seen That May Be Serious Oscar Contenders The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The Best Documentaries Of 2014 So Far The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The 20 Best TV Shows Of The 2013/2014 Season The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... The Best Films Of 2014 So Far... From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki From Worst To Best: Ranking The Films Of Hayao Miyazaki The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes The 10 Best & Worst Movie Sex Scenes

NYFF Review: 'Leviathan' An Otherworldly Peek At A Life At Sea

The Playlist By Gabe Toro | The Playlist October 11, 2012 at 8:59PM

Every sound in “Leviathan” is a shuddering staccato. Every visual wears darkness like a cloak. With absolutely no context, there’s no awareness of what’s up or down. When it is promoted, the ads will suggest “Leviathan” is a documentary, and a scan of the press notes will reveal exactly where the film is set, and what’s taking place onscreen. But those peripheral elements are not the text, they are distraction. The experience of “Leviathan” is wholly singular, without context, enveloping and immersive. In some ways, it might very well be the most terrifying picture of the year.
1
Leviathan

Every sound in “Leviathan” is a shuddering staccato. Every visual wears darkness like a cloak. With absolutely no context, there’s no awareness of what’s up or down. When it is promoted, the ads will suggest “Leviathan” is a documentary, and a scan of the press notes will reveal exactly where the film is set, and what’s taking place onscreen. But those peripheral elements are not the text, they are distraction. The experience of “Leviathan” is wholly singular, without context, enveloping and immersive. In some ways, it might very well be the most terrifying picture of the year.

"Leviathan."
"Leviathan."

The very first images of “Leviathan,” which features no narration or orchestral score, are defiantly Lovecraftian, unknowable in the extreme. A vessel at sea flings its limbs into the water, slithering and sliding into each other, the soundtrack alive with the slapping sounds of water against the hull. The ship’s slithery tendrils, which flail wildly, almost operate on their own, free of any master, dancing about the ship’s deck violently, against the legs of what we are to assume are human ship-dwellers. Even that seems uncertain: our vision obscured by the rocking ship, the pouring rain, and excessive waves, these figures wear full-body uniforms with bulky boots and mysterious hoods. Ridley Scott visualized humanity’s engineers as naked, hairless bodybuilders in "Prometheus": even sans sci-fi trappings, “Leviathan” feels more accurate and more frightening.

Fish are dragged out of the sea and onto the deck, collapsed onto each other by the hundreds. The camera (if it is a camera) captures their helpless open mouths, the distant expressions on these carcasses wordlessly illustrating the dominance of one species over the other, and how the victors have absolutely zero interest in the creatures which they have conquered. Fish heads detached from their bodies are merely sprayed off the boat, some remaining to spin in circles helplessly, God’s cruel joke.

We’ve seen this sort of footage before—it was almost a mini pop-culture event when one of the crew members on the series “The Deadliest Catch” passed away. But this raw, this cold, this borderline alien—it almost feels like an assumption to state that this footage takes place on Earth. If you told “Leviathan” viewers that it was material captured from the average day on an alien planet, with its odd wardrobe draped over humanoid beings, it’s unrelenting darkness, and the harshness of the atmosphere, it wouldn’t be a difficult theory to accept. Of course, even what it is—a document of a brief period on Earth—seems far-fetched to us, even if that’s essentially how it would be presented to an otherworldly being. Send a copy of “Leviathan” to invading aliens, see if they stick around for long. Hopefully they have Blu-Ray players.

Leviathan

The few quiet moments we share with the inhabitants of the ship are spent observing them anthropologically. Less attention is spent on their faces—weathered, beaten, bearded—than it is on their skin tones, blemishes, and aggressive tattoos. These tattoos especially tell a story. The few things we hear these shipmates say in the early goings are through a loudspeaker, where, terrifyingly, the only words we can make out amongst what sound like barks are repeated "No’s". Once we do hear them talk, we’ve already learned so much from their musculature, their bruises and wrinkles that the short phrases they exchange hold no revelatory information.

Taken at face value, “Leviathan” can feel like a bit of a farce. Here’s a dead-serious, unbearably intense look at a harsh blue collar life so abrasive, and so obtuse, that’s destined to be played in arthouse cinemas to higher education-pursuing students and upper-class citizens in big cities. This writer recollects a viewing of the intense, but very low-key drama “Breach” with an actual former FBI agent, who remarked, “Yep, that’s exactly how it was in the FBI.” He then added, with a shrug, “Fuckin’ boring.” It’s doubtful anyone who has actually taken a job like the one seen in “Leviathan” would be open to watching the picture. But that’s exactly the point of a late scene where one of the men settles in after a rough night, and quietly and indifferently watches television, shifting into sleep mode as indistinct high-energy commercials play. Some visit the clutches of the “Leviathan,” but those in its grips understandably have little desire to return. [A-]
 

This article is related to: New York Film Festival, Review, Documentary


The Playlist

The obsessives' guide to contemporary cinema via film discussion, news, reviews, features, nostalgia, movie music, soundtracks, DVDs and more.


E-Mail Updates