Last Thursday, Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center hosted directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Ernst Karel, and Verena Paravel of the Sensory Ethnography Lab as they presented their newest film, Leviathan. The film takes place on a fishing vessel, and while I was expecting an exposé on the fishing industry, instead, I got a very pure, abstract look at how the fishing boat operates.
Leviathan is not a narrative story in any sense. Rather, it uses small, durable, and waterproof GoPro cameras attached and placed in various areas of the ship to get dynamic shots of different happenings. For example, in one scene, a fisherman could be reeling in the net on the trawler, while in the next, there could be a shot underwater as the ocean rushes past the camera. The film is not meant to discuss the fishing industry, it serves only to give a snapshot of life aboard the vessel. The confusion of being in the middle of the ocean, during a storm, and having to sort through fish. The monotony of spending hours waiting to pull up the net. It’s scary just how terrible the fishermen’s lives are. Worst of all is the fish. Throughout the film, you spend much more time seeing the scavenging birds and working men than you do fish, until in one miraculous moment, they appear. In what I can only describe as the most gruesome movie moment I’ve ever seen, I watch as they systematically organize and gut every single fish. After a low shot of the dead fish in the dumping receptacle, with the blood and cut fish heads, I became incredibly disgusted, not at the process, but at how well the directors made the scene so nauseating. The rocking of the ship, paired with the blood and severed heads was hard to watch, and even though I’m not a squeamish person, it was near unbearable.
While anyone who wants to see fishermen get knocked down a notch like Seaworld in Blackfish might be disappointed, Leviathan offers something different. I thought I had heard everything I had needed to hear against the fishing industry, but after having to actually watch them work, I pity them as well as the fish. Trawling can be harmful to the ecosystem by hurting unintended catches or destroying habitats, but I had never considered how terrible the work of the trawler fisherman is. The movie presents the fishing industry not as evil or scary, but bland and bad for everyone involved. I’ve reevaluated my views on the issue because of the film, and it’s worth a watch for anyone interested.