Fish Tank gathers everything I cherish about british cinema: it deals with deeply flawed characters constricted by harsh realities, and portrays these in raw, but gorgeous, cinematography – notice Mia’s dancing scenes, both in the blueish room, and living room with Connor – and above all, powerful performances to hold it together.
The film follows Mia (Katie Jarvis), a 15 year old girl, the oldest of two, who lives with her single mother (Joanne, played by Kierston Wareing), in a decadent Essex neighborhood. These three women keep a sadly dysfunctional relationship, that is about to be deeply shaken – perhaps only rushing the inevitable – with the arrival of Joanne’s new boyfriend, Connor (Michael Fassbender). From his first interaction with Mia we get the feeling that something about him is not quite right, and we fear the outcome of his involvement with this family, for Mia is clearly attracted to Connor, and his behaviour suggests that the feeling is mutual.
This kind of romance (if we can call it that) is a very complex situation, hard to deal in reality and hard to portray in fiction. From the few who dare to dwell in these subject, even fewer come out as books or films that thrive – and Fish Tank is one of those precious and impressive few. It addresses this relationship with both harsh and beautiful truthness, and most importantly, never judging. It understands the situation’s complexity, and thus lets its characters struggle, crumble and rise, without ever labelling them as righteous or sinful, and making its audience struggle as well with the indefinite greyness of human dynamics.
In the midst of all this, it’s up to Jarvis and Fassbender to keep the delicate balance between exoneration and unsettling perversion – and both excel at it. It’s disturbing, yes, but also alluring. In fact, apart from some occasional heartbreaking moments, the main atmosphere is strangely optimistic and tender. And in the end, despite (or precisely because) everything that happens, we can’t help sympathise with Mia, and even Connor, as the final scene unfolds with both sorrow and hope, as so often occurs in real life.