Thursday, November 08, 2007

Watching: Open Water

You know that famous moment in Jaws when the shark first appears and Roy Scheider tells his shipmates that they're going to need a bigger boat?

You know what would be even scarier? If you removed the adjective. As in, "We're going to need a boat." Any boat.

Because if you don't have a boat -- never mind how big it is -- you're in the water with the shark. Or, in this particular case, sharks.

And so it is in Open Water. The setup is barebones: semi-obnoxious overworked yuppies rush off to an improvised Caribbean vacation, join in a scuba-diving day trip, and, thanks to a clerical error, are forgotten in the water when the boat takes off.

The rest consists of the two of them drifting, floating and bobbing in the water, cursing their luck, resisting the temptation to blame each other, and watching the sharks circle. Quite literally.

They also pretty much move through the Kubler-Rossian five stages of dying. The best was stage two, anger, especially when the doggie-paddling doomed guy screamed at the heavens that they actually paid to have this happen to them. The fact that he looked like a water-logged Steve Carrell made it even better.

If Jack London had been born a hundred years later, he might have made movies like this one instead of writing short stories. The terror that is slowly revealed is not the voraciousness of nature and its creatures, but its indifference. Sure, the sharks poke around at the hapless stranded divers, and even take a nibble or two, but that's not what ultimately dooms them. It is the emptiness, the estrangement from the ordinary comforts and necessities of life, that is the killer. Nature does not care. We have to actively strive to remain alive. It's not so much nature's hostility to man, or man's inhumanity to man, as man's general incompetence, randomly applied to his fellow man, that'll get us all killed.


D.B. Echo said...

I still can't imagine how a movie that consists of two people treading water can hold anyone's attention for more than ninety minutes. There must be some damn fine writing and acting there.

The notion of this film as a static two-shot - with sharks - made me wonder what it would be like if it were written and directed by Kevin Smith. Which made me wonder what it would be like it it were Dante and Randall in the water. And that would be pretty funny. And then they would get eaten.

Michael Plank said...

Actually, it clocks in at a snappy 81 minutes!