Fish Tank is a story through the eyes of Mia (Katie Jarvis), a 15 year old girl from the slums of Essex. Mia is living with her mother and her sister in a neighborhood infested with poverty. Her mother is jobless and an almost hopeless individual. However, her mother manages to find herself a decent and gentle boyfriend, Connor. In a way, he’s all that anyone could ever hope for. He treats the girls gently and their mother with respect.
Mia is aware of how trapped she is. She sees herself in all the animals bound by chains. On one occasion she tries to free a horse that’s bound inside private property. When she gets caught, the result is one of the most frightening scenarios imaginable. She is seized by two of the owners with an imminent threat of rape. They let her go after what seemed like ages of agony both to Mia and the viewers.
The film brilliantly portrays the complex relationship between Mia and Connor. For a great portion of the film it is unclear whether their relationship is paternal or erotic. The sexual tension is palpable in all of their scenes together, but since we see things through Mia’s eyes, we are unable to determine if his actions are sexual or if he is a fatherly character. That dynamic is a result of great performances and very well timed shots from director Andrea Arnold.
Michael Fassbender (300, Inglorious Basterds) plays Connor who maintains a fishy sort of goodness. His calmness and easiness is out of place in a stress ridden family and yet it seems to provide a much sought after tranquility. His confident presence in the family gives them a sense of serenity and comfort, yet Connor is too unhinged, too level-headed for a family whose members erupt to full blast at the slightest opportunity. His life seems mysterious but less so as Mia tries to invade it.
Perhaps one of the most reflective scenes of the dynamic between Connor and Mia’s family is when he takes them to a pond. With patience and gentleness catches a fish with his bare hands. As the fish is dying, gasping for air, he inserts a stick into its mouth through its body as this is the more humane thing to do.
The movie is captivating in showing a profoundly dire situation of poverty and a set of dysfunctional relationships that have formed in such a place. Mia seems to have a knack for severing good ties she has. Part of her doesn’t want to believe in any goodness that might be presented to her. She’s right to suspect everything, for in her world nothing can go right. Oddly enough after the harrowing threat of rape, she fearlessly returns to the scene to look for the bag she left behind.
The movie never ceases to show us the world through Mia’s eyes, taking its time to do so. There is something bleak about the outlook with which we are provided with for 122 minutes. We slowly uncover the reality of her world at her own pace. In the end we have a riveting story and we see is what it’s like to be a fish inside a tank.
Fish Tank won 18 awards including the BAFTA award for Outstanding British Film in 2010 and was nominated to win 15 more awards including the Golden Palm in Cannes.