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edge staff writer


‘Little Fish’ a smart sci-fi love story

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So much of how we relate to the world rests on a foundation of memory. But what if that foundation were to crumble? How can a society survive without remembering?

How can love?

“Little Fish” – directed by Chad Hartigan from Mattson Tomlin’s screenplay – is a look at what might happen if the world started to forget. A young couple is just starting out on their life of love when their future is threatened by a global pandemic (yes, I know), one that threatens the very memory of their time together.

It is a thoughtful and emotional engagement with the idea of what it means to be connected to one another and how much of what binds us together is shared experience and the ability to return to those times through memory. Without that tether, we simply float away. And yet … perhaps love can transcend that tether and form a tie of its own.

A disease is sweeping the globe, a neurological disorder that causes people to lose their memories. For some, it’s a sudden all-at-once forgetting of everyone and everything. For others, a gradual decline, losing pieces of themselves until one day it’s all gone. No one knows where it came from or how to stop it. And yet, as always, people continue living their lives, adapting to the new dangers backed into their world.

In the midst of all of this, Emma (Olivia Cooke, “Sound of Metal”) meets Jude (Jack O’Connell, “Seberg”). She’s sitting on a rocky beach; he’s walking his dog. She likes his dog, he likes her accent. There’s an instant connection between the two, though it takes a bit for the potential of that connection to be realized. They fall in love and get married and everything inside is wonderful even if the outside is still scary.

But then the outside finds a way in.

More and more people keep forgetting. Their friends. Their families. And then Jude starts to forget. Emma tries everything, even going so far as to try and sign him up for clinical trials. The clock is ticking – at some point, Jude is going to forget who she is. All that life, all that love – lost forever to an invisible enemy.

In an effort to mitigate that loss, Emma tries to remember everything herself. Throughout, we get flashbacks to various moments in her relationship with Jude, from that initial meet-cute up through the present. In those moments, we’re given a sense of just what this relationship is and what will be gone if it disappears.

As the world crumbles, the couple is forced to reckon with harsh reality. They must decide what they are willing to do and how far they are willing to go in search of an answer. And to have any chance at all, they may be left with no choice but to risk everything.

“Little Fish” may be a small film, but there’s nothing small about the thoughts and feelings it evokes. This is a movie that is almost wholly uncynical about love – a rarity in and of itself. We get a romantic journey via flashback even as we witness the grief and anger that come when love is taken from us by the cruelties of the universe, but in both instances, love itself is treated with nothing but genuine respect.

This kind of flashback-and-forth can sometimes undermine a film’s narrative flow, but Hartigan has a solid handle on the chronological balance; he uses memory scenes as both expansions and punctuations. Even as the tones diverge, that balance remains. Who we are is shaped by the past; if our memories of that past are gone, then who are we?

Add to that question the flickers of dark humor that occasionally crackle through and the brief moments of detail that illustrate the fundamental changes to the world in which they now live and you can see just why “Little Fish” clicks.

(Also, it has to be noted that the ending of this movie is just exceptional. I won’t tell you why. Just know that it is.)

Now, this film preceded the pandemic, but it’s tough to deny that current circumstances add an additional layer of impact to the proceedings. The fear, the despair, the hopelessness – all hit harder due to our own perspectives. “Little Fish” would have worked regardless, I think, but the present situation makes it all land just a bit different.

This movie lives and breathes with its central pairing; as Emma and Jude go, so goes “Little Fish.” It’s a story that demands a lot of its stars, but both actors prove capable of handling their business. As Emma, Cooke manages to find moments of determination and desperation alike; she’s equal parts steely resolve and frightened vulnerability. O’Connell emanates irascibility, giving off that incorrigible goofball vibe while also allowing glimpses of the more thoughtful man beneath the surface. And the two of them together have a remarkable chemistry, an effortless engagement with one another. The glowing energy of their dynamic makes the gradual erosion of their shared life from Jude’s mind all the more heartbreaking.

“Little Fish” is a smart and sincere film, one that embraces the importance of memory while also acknowledging its fleeting nature. To forget what we’ve done and where we’ve been is to forget who we are, both to other people and to ourselves. And as for love, well … it changes everything.

[4.5 out of 5]

Last modified on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 13:10


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