When I first heard the title “Little Fish” I thought “little” of it. Nomen est Omen as the saying goes. I then watched it, expecting a sad love story, which is essentially what this movie is. It’s a very sad Little Fish. I liked it, though. However, in a time of a real pandemic, watching a sad movie about a fictional pandemic that causes memory loss and ultimately loss of self and your loved ones, you really need to be in the right mind set when watching this, because it is … sad.
Jude (Jack O’Connell) and Emma (Olivia Cooke) meet at the beach, fall in love and eventually marry, all this is narrated by Emma in flashbacks. Emma recounts first cases of Neuro-Inflammatory Affliction (NIA), the marathon runner who forgot to stop running, a fisherman who forgot how to steer a boat and tried to swim back to shore or a bus driver who forgot he was a bus driver and just stopped the bus, got out and left the passenger behind in the bus. Any romantic notion of these incidents is quelled as we hear about pilots forgetting how to fly a plane and crashing and subsequently the disease hits home and starts affecting friends and family, her mother and ultimately her husband, Jude.
Some forget everything at once, others fade away slowly over time, drawing comparisons to Alzheimer’s disease. Which is worse? What makes you love a person, the memories you have together? The memories you make together or the memories you try to save, every day, each day? We don’t get to see the grand scale effects of the pandemic as Little Fish is just that about two “little fish”. It’s also not about the medical details on how this disease would realistically affect people. NIS makes you forget things, but the things that are forgotten are all seemingly selected for the purpose of dramatizing the loss of self. You better not start asking why they can remember to go shopping, use the bathroom, not soil themselves or any of the other horrible things one does not want to think about when it comes to a non functioning brain. Then again, NIS is not Alzheimer’s and the detailed medical implications do not really matter. It’s about two people who love each other and try and hold on to each other as long as they can until they can’t, until they can’t even remember why they are sad anymore. Ignorance is bliss they say… is it though?
I get it that some people may rate this film low, as it is slow, constructed around two characters, it’s all low key, mellow melancholic and quite beautiful. Two ordinary people, doing ordinary things, a vet and a photographer, trying to make a living in a world that has gone mad. Cooke and O’Connell are great together and manage to inject bittersweet humor into scenes that just feel natural, like taking a bath together and Jude discovering Emma’s little fish tattoo on her ankle, which he finds funny, because he has no clue why she would have it and when she drags up his leg and shows him that he has one, too, he still doesn’t remember but finds it hilarious that they have matching tattoos. It resonates, it lingers, it stays with you.
The movie is full of little moments like this, which Emma and Jude cherish as they try to save them by labelling Polaroids and writing down memories in journals and we as viewers get to cherish with them, we also are reminded that time is fleeting and in this race against time underlined by the sublime score from Keegan DeWitt, what counts most is to get to spend time with the ones we love and hopefully, we will remember it.
When Emma is sitting at the beach at the end we are back at the beginning. Emma doesn’t remember. She doesn’t remember why she is sad, she doesn’t remember their dog Blue or Jude. We remember, we remember for Emma, we remember for Jude. Yet, we are all little fish in an endless ocean of beginnings and endings, hoping that someone will remember us.
LITTLE FISH is available on IFC Films Unlimited June 2nd. Be sure to remember that date.