We’re nearly out of food.
the ships broken. ← (we need repairs)
the storms are getting worse.
I miss you.
I love animation. I love every kind of animation. I’ve watched years worth of animated shows and films. I’ve watched so many, and they’ve infected me so deeply, that even my dreams are animated. When I close my eyes and think of the world and myself in it, we’re all animated. I’ll never get enough, and Fathoms by Joe Russ reminds me why.
At only 22 minutes long, Joe Russ covers a lot of ground here and brings some powerful emotions to a beautifully made film. Set in a postapocalyptic world in the indeterminate future, a girl and her cat and a man drift through the ocean that the world’s become, salvaging memories of the drowned world beneath the surface. Humanity’s lost and these three wander seemingly without direction, holding each other together by holding onto the past and searching for any signs of a future.
There’s a lot of worldbuilding happening here, but Russ doesn’t bog us down with explanations and words. And this is something I’ll probably be talking about over and over again: the language of film.
The language of film is visual. Many will probably disagree with me here, but film is best when it focuses on the visual aspect, and Russ does this brilliantly. Though the animation sometimes lacks fluidity when focused on the characters, he captures our horrifying future and the devastating past of the young girl through flashes of images, of scenes. The animation’s best when we’re in long shots of the drowned world revealed gradually through the man’s underwater journey that leads to his own doom. There’s very little talking in Fathoms, forcing the narrative to rely on the imagery, the motions of people and visions. This also hands the narrative to the viewer, making us participate in its creation. By refusing explanations and simply showing us the world these characters must float through, we, the audience, must fill in the gaps, combine all these images and visions and scenes into a narrative. In this way we become active participants in Fathoms. We come to know the young girl, Sam, intimately, though only a few words ever cross her lips. We fall into her pain, the immense loss she carries, and the way she clings to life, even at life’s end.
And the score adds so much here. Combining the simple score with the images creates an atmosphere both heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s a dangerous world, and Sam’s haunted by the one she lost beneath the waves, and she keeps the ghosts of her family alive through the tiny bits of life struggling to survive in a poisonous future.
Fathoms is science fiction, animation, storytelling, and filmmaking at its best. It’s something I keep watching, keep learning from, keep falling deeper in love with. It’ll break your heart, and it’ll haunt you. Certain images–the loss of Sam’s father, her family, of the man–from Fathoms are already burrowing deep into me and I’ll be holding on to them for years to come.
The way the film builds slowly, cutting the chronology back and forth, revealing Sam’s past, and then to the present where we watch the man seeking life beneath the surface. He finds it and it’s both beautiful and horrifying. The monstrous life deep in the ocean taking him away even as he’s about to collect what he’s sought. And we don’t see the violence, but we see his crushed skull, his lifeless body, and then we pan out, the leaves falling away, our hearts emptying and all hope drifting forever away as we return to Sam and her cat, Hippo, still drifting through the ocean that is everywhere, saying goodbye to the man for what will be the final time.
Loneliness, life in an empty world, with only her cat to hold her together, to keep life worthwhile. Because that’s what animals do for us, and I remember my dog and the day she died, her life vomited away as I held her, hoping for only one thing: for her to be okay, for this night to be over, for us to sleep and just be fine again.
I remember the day she first stepped into my life as a dog so small she could fit in my hand, and I remember the day she died, but what I remember best are the insomniatic nights we spent together, hoping for the day to be brighter, to be just a little kinder.
She died a month after I returned home from Korea, after a year away. She held on just long enough for us to build a few more memories, for one final perfect month before her body gave up, twisted from the inside.
She was my best friend for fifteen years, and the most important person in my life, always there for me, comforting me when sorrow was too heavy, when the loneliness was too deep. I’ll never forget her but I’ve had to go on without her for the last two years.
Fathoms is about loss, and how we’re always losing what matters most. Joe Russ was inspired by the loss of his father to cancer, and we feel this loss in every frame, in every sentence they speak. And he ties our hope and despair together, cutting back and forth between the remnants of possibility to the devastation of loss.
But even in all this loss, we’re carried by the beauty of the score and imagery, of the love found after the end of the world, and how people come together to give each other meaning.
Full of hope and despair, this isn’t something you want to miss. So watch it now, if you haven’t watched it yet. Let it wash over you, and then let me know what you think in the comments.