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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons Fish Tank Is For Grown Ups

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday...

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Here’s a suggestion for what you ought to do over the upcoming Memorial Day (U.S.)/Bank holiday weekend (U.K.): rent a little movie that came out last year called Fish Tank.

It’s often billed as the U.K.’s answer to Precious. Which is to say that both films treat the subject of poverty, sexuality, dysfunctional families and abuse within an urban setting. But the American film has more of an uplifting, Oprah-esque touch while the British film is raw and bleak. (A bit like the difference between the American and British versions of the television show, The Office.)

I haven’t seen Precious yet, so I can’t speak to the comparison. But I can say that as someone who likes her films sunny side down, Fish Tank really spoke to me and has stayed with me long after I finished watching it.

And I think – like Up In The Air, but for entirely different reasons – it’s also a film about adulthood. Here’s why:

1. It’s about toughness and vulnerability. Once you set eyes on the film’s protagonist – Mia- a scrappy 15-year-old whose life is upended when her mother’s new boyfriend moves in, you won’t take your eyes off of her. Part of this is the fresh, compelling performance by the young actress, Katie Jarvis. But what makes Mia so appealing is that she is in equal measure both tough (she punches a few faces along the way) and vulnerable. (Beneath the toughness we see how painful she finds her social isolation, her verbally abusive mother, and her sexual longing for someone out of her reach.) And that’s what growing up is all about, isn’t it? Learning how to live with disappointment and fear, but also how to protect ourselves from getting hurt.

2. You fall in love with the wrong people. Love Stinks, as the immortal J. Geils Band once told us. And it’s true. At some point in your life – and possible more than once – you inevitably fall in love with the wrong person. They’re too old. They’re too young. They’re married. They’re gay. They’re straight. They live in Timbuktu. It doesn’t matter why. It just can’t work out.  And when Mia looks at her lover who can’t remain her lover for all sorts of reasons, your heart will sink along with hers in recognition of this fundamental truth.

3. Alcohol heals and damages.  When you’re young, it’s liberating to finally sneak that first sip of alcohol. And let’s face it, as you get older, it’s fun to get drunk once in a while. And sometimes – when you’ve been dumped or fired or just had a really bad day – a drink can really help. But when Mia’s 9 or 10 year-old sister starts sipping from a beer can – and you’ve already seen what drinking has done to Mia and especially her mother – you recoil from the image. And you just want to rip the beer can out of her hand. It’s such a fine line, drinking. It’s fun and yet  it can so easily get the best of us. But it takes awhile to figure that out. Ditto sex. But I won’t spoil the movie.

4. Social Class matters. As I wrote in an earlier post about why The Elegance of the Hedgehog is for grown ups – social class is one of those concepts that you can only appreciate once you’re grown up. The idea that where you start often determines where you end up. The idea that if you have no role models they are difficult to invent. The fact that societies don’t often know what to do with the so-called “underclass” – even when it lives right down the road. All of these themes are explored in this film.

5. Having a passion helps. If there’s an uplifting note in this movie, it is Mia’s love of dance. Even though she usually dances alone – in an abandoned council flat (public housing apartment) while drinking beer – dancing brings her joy and may well be her emancipation if she can just figure out what to do with it. It is even one way she manages to connect with her mother. I’ve written before about how important it is to start with what you like and what you’re good at if you want to make a meaningful change in your life. You don’t have to be Baryshnikov. You just need to be passionate about something. Anything. And start there.


Image: Tiny Dancer by Tiziano Caviglia via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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  1. Abortion and Regret: The Remorse Can Cut Both Ways « RealDelia - June 15, 2010

    […] The Remorse Can Cut Both Ways There’s a scene in the movie “Fish Tank,” (often hailed as the U.K.’s answer to “Precious,”) in which the mother of the 15-year-old heroine tells her daughter that she’d […]

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