“When your disaster is everyone’s disaster, how do you grieve?”
This line of dialogue from “Little Fish” really struck a chord with me. While the quote may not be COVID-19-related in the film, it still manages to capture the same seemingly hopeless and grief-ridden reality that has reared its head over the past 12 months.
“Little Fish,” which opens at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center this Friday, may not deal with COVID-19 specifically, but it does present a pandemic of its own. The film’s world is being ravaged by a virus that causes intense memory loss. Some people get sick gradually, slowly forgetting how to do small things and eventually even losing memories of their loved ones. Soon enough, they don’t remember anyone and find themselves lost in a world they don’t recognize. Other people lose it all at once, which is relatively harmless if they’re just walking down the street, but can cause larger tragedies if they are, say, flying an airplane.
In this world that is slowly becoming more and more inoperable, “Little Fish” tells the story of a couple desperately trying to hold onto each other. These two characters, Emma and Jude, were recently married when the pandemic started. They’re the kind of couple that after only hearing a single conversation between the two, it’s apparent they’ll always be together. They seem to be getting through the pandemic more or less unphased, until Jude slowly begins showing symptoms of the film’s central disease. From there on, these two try everything they can to slow the worsening of his conditions. As time goes on, it becomes increasingly apparent that the only thing they can do is appreciate the time they still have together. They stand side by side, in the face of immense tragedy, and desperately try to hold onto the memories of the only thing that matters: each other.
“Little Fish” is a tragic story of love, loss, optimism and desperation. The two lead characters, played wonderfully by Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, are incredibly relatable. They are down-to-earth characters with flaws and issues, but they find their happiness together, which makes it all the more heartbreaking when they start losing each other.
The film makes the gradual emotional separation of Jude and Emma even more devastating by frequently including flashbacks to the early years of their relationship. The audience gets to see how they meet one another, how they fall in love, how they decide to get married and — most importantly — the small moments they’ve shared in between it all. Many of these memories are revisited more than once from the perspective of Jude, and each time we see them something has changed. Whether it be the color of the walls, a line of dialogue or even an entire interaction, these changing details in the flashbacks illustrate exactly how Jude is losing his memories. It provides the audience with substantive examples of how the virus is affecting Jude, and how he occasionally tries to hide these forgotten moments from Emma.
I don’t want to go into too much detail about the film’s third act, because I believe it’s best experienced not knowing what to expect, but it’s the perfect ending for the film. It’s heart-shattering, yet still optimistic. The film ends in tragedy, though maybe not in the way the audience expects. And then, among all the dust and rubble, there is a single ray of hope. It was a truly phenomenal ending to the film, and it tied everything together incredibly well.
In case it’s not already apparent, I loved “Little Fish.” Without a doubt, it’s the best film I’ve seen so far this year. It may not be the most cheerful or exciting film out there, but it has an outstanding amount of depth and emotion woven into it, all of which only become more resonant as a result of the pandemic reality we’re currently experiencing. It’s a truly stellar and beautiful film, and one that I can’t recommend enough.