Fish Tank (2009)

by George Watches Things

Mia is reckless. She picks fights with girls without justification. When she sees a nice horse, she tries to steal it. Her life has no direction. Is it nature or nuture? Her mother, who is perhaps more reckless and less sympathetic, says “it’s like she came out looking for trouble.”

That’s just the thing Mia’s mother (Kierston Wareing) would say. She’s an abusive single parent (living in a housing complex) who likes to party and rarely has an intelligent thought. She begins seeing a security guard at a home improvement store, Connor, but there are no scenes between them that say they’ll last. There is no connection.

Meanwhile, Mia (newcomer Katie Jarvis), a teen, has taken up hip-hop dance, after seeing a skank she hates do it poorly. The first scene in which she dances doesn’t really flatter her limited skills. But she tries again, in front of the TV (tuned to a Ja Rule music video) one morning, in her pajamas. That’s when she meets her mother’s boyfriend.

Her mother acts differently around Connor (Michael Fassbender) than she does around her daughters, Mia and Tyler (Jarvis and Rebecca Griffiths, respectively); she’s much less abusive.

During one of her mother’s parties, and while her nine-year-old sister was upstairs drinking and smoking with a friend, Mia gets overly intoxicated and passes out in her mother’s room. (Her mother only cares because she’s in her room.) It’s Connor who picks her up, takes her to her room, and covers her with a blanket. It’s a simple act of kindness, but it might have been the first kind thing anyone has done for Mia in a long time.

One day, Connor takes Mia and Tyler along with their mother on one of their long drives (to the dismay of Mia’s mother). They drive to a pond, where Connor takes his shoes off and announces he’ll be entering the water to catch a fish. Mia’s mother and sister ridicule him, but Mia joins him. And while Mia and Connor try (and succeed) to catch a fish, Mia’s mother and sister continue to call them names. Their comments do nothing but try to put them down. Connor occasionally teases Mia over the course of the film, but his comments are never meant to hurt her.

There is a clear lack of ambition among the residents of the complex, including the three women at the heart of the story. Connor even asks the girls what animal they would want to come back as in a future life. Each of them chooses an animal that stays on the ground, while he says he would want to be a bald eagle. “Wouldn’t you want to fly?” he asks.

[Spoilers begin here.]

But Mia can change. We see that she’s an observer. The scene with the dancing skank, spying on her mother and Connor, the horse (whose owner she develops a relationship with), Connor’s yard and house… director Andrea Arnold makes it clear that she’s not just a poor, dumb girl who wasn’t taught any better.

It becomes apparent, at one point, after Connor does many kind things in a row for her, that she’s falling for him. And him for her. Even though they’re both immature in their own ways, they have some brains. Arnold shows us Mia dancing once again, this time in front of Connor and with his favorite song (which is turning into her favorite song). Arnold likes to put her characters in dimly lit places, and perhaps it was just the late evening lighting, but Mia actually looked like a good dancer. She looked like she was in a stylish music video, living the dream.

Mia, a 15-year-old, and Connor, a 30-year-old, become intimate.

The next day, Connor is gone. Mia’s mother is bawling, and Mia tries to find him.

She traces him to a suburban home a few miles from her town. And once Mia realizes that Connor has a wife/live-in girlfriend and a child, she turns into an animal… peeing on what she perceives as her property, taking her jealousy and frustration out on his little girl, who she kidnaps. The child even says “you’re starting to scare me now.” This innocent little girl is threatening this thing she likes, and what is her plan?

What is ever her plan? She tries to steal the pretty white horse twice, and fails both times. But what if she succeeded? What would she do with it?

After a water scene that contrasts beautifully with the scene back at the pond, Mia comes to her senses. It’s both devastating and reassuring. Finally, she’s doing a somewhat mature thing. There are no grand speeches, no lightbulbs. She gives the child back, and moves on.

The next day, she has an audition as an erotic dancer. Only she doesn’t know about the erotic part until she sees the girl before her. The tape on Mia’s audition is Connor’s favorite song, and half in retaliation toward him, and half because she doesn’t want to be an erotic dancer, she storms out. Two mature things in a row. The film could have ended right there.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. A few more things happen, none of them effective or satisfying. Part of this is because we never got a good sense of the person who “rescues” her from the housing complex, the owner of the horse she tried to steal. The film patches up what had cracked, for no apparent reason but to have a happy ending.

3.5/4

Notes:

  • I wondered if Mia’s mother still talks to her parents.
  • Tyler acts differently around Connor, as well. Her foul mouth cleans up a bit.
  • How quickly Mia goes from the hunter (of “Kira”) to the hunted (by Connor), and from unhappy to happy to unhappy, again. At one point, Tyler gives the opinion that anything that can fly can be shot down easily.
  • Next week: Mid-August Lunch and The Diary of Anne Frank.
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