The Red Turtle is Zen Animation

by Abby Olcese on January 24, 2017

in Print Reviews,Reviews

It’s not often that a movie could be described as zen, but that’s exactly what the animated film The Red Turtle is. This gem produced by Japanese animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli–in partnership with Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit–is a simple, wordless story, that encompasses thoughts on nature, love, life and death within its 80 minute runtime. It’s a meditative fairy tale full of grace, mystery and gorgeous visuals throughout.

The story starts with an unnamed man, shipwrecked on an island. His attempts to return to civilization are thwarted by a huge, stoic red sea turtle that destroys the man’s makeshift rafts every time he tries to leave. After the man eventually kills the turtle when it shows up on land, the turtle magically transforms into a woman. They have a child, and the three of them live off the bounty of the island–and whether its storms–together as a family.

Nearly half of The Red Turtle involves the man exploring the island, and Dudok de Wit fills the landscape with natural wonders. There are emerald green forests, golden fields, and a night sky peppered with stars. But for all the charm and magic in it, there’s plenty of nature’s harshness, too–a group of baby turtles heads to the ocean, but one doesn’t make it. A seal that appears happy and barking in one scene shows up dead a few days later.

Tellingly, the film treats its scenes of joy, frustration, fear and sadness with the same even tone, and a larger sense of connectedness. The turtle that dies becomes food for a hungry crab. A tsunami that nearly destroys the island makes room for new growth. Nothing that happens in the film is determined as objectively good or bad, but all of it contains a sense of beauty.

The Red Turtle feels less like a movie, and more like an 80 minute piece of art. Every scene is stunning to look at, and the experience of watching it is both calming and moving. It’s a one-of-a-kind work that shows us we don’t always need a three-act plot or stirring action to find a movie meaningful. Sometimes all it takes is a little mindfulness.

Abby is a contributor to Scene-Stealers and also writes at her own blog, No More Popcorn. Follow her at:

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