LITTLE FISH: A Beautiful, Harrowing Take on Love & Life

Despite the tragedy of real, distinguishable love being held back – albeit by time, societal restraints, or medical/life reasons, we still seek its portrayal in film. Either we are gluttons for punishment, or, like in the case of Little Fish, the love is worth experiencing, even with the heart-aching loss.

Even without knowing the finale, if one is to read a one-line synopsis of this movie you would ascertain its inevitable melancholy nature. That doesn’t deter from its power, and in one particular obvious way (memory), it reminds me of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, but also because love is love; short or long, and the memories, the briefest of details, can mean the world.

Falling in Love, Falling Away

I might be waxing slightly poetic here, but this floored me at times. It could be because of the tremendous performances by Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell, or because the story unravels in the same way our character’s do, with a sensitivity that’s beauty makes the harsh circumstances, even more significant.

LITTLE FISH: A Beautiful, Harrowing Take on Love & Life
source: IFC Films

This film, by director Chad Hartigan, is one I was quite disappointed to have missed at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Luckily, I was able to screen it now, and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind since.

The film starts narrated by Emma (Olivia Cooke) as she recounts the relationship she has built with her husband Jude (Jack O’Connell). While this is very much grounded in real-life situations and the intimacies of relationships, it is surrounded by a science-fiction plot.

There are also some obvious elements that feel very much like our current reality, even if the details are different. When a global epidemic happens, a virus that causes one to rapidly and severely lose their memory, called Neuroinflammatory Affliction (or NIA), it’s clear that anyone, at any age, is susceptible. When Jude starts showing symptoms, the two fight to keep him remembering, to prolong the time together, as they were, for as long as they can.

This progresses to continued narration by Emma, along with flashes of memories the two share from important moments of their lives. When there’s a chance for a cure, it adds to their joint fight for survival. For themselves, for the world, and for the things that make them – them. Emma tries to quiz Jude and leaves him notes. When we see him write her name on a picture, it’s especially gut-wrenching. Despite this fictitious disease and the scope of it, there are so many similarities to real-life (including pandemic life), and the characters and their feelings for one another are so tangible, that it’s nearly impossible not to mirror the pain of the couple on screen. Those who have had personal experiences with loved ones and memory loss may find this especially harrowing.

LITTLE FISH: A Beautiful, Harrowing Take on Love & Life
source: IFC Films

Beautifully written by Mattson Tomlin, and directed by Chad Hartigan, Little Fishes uses its subtlest touches to cause big reactions. There are also some truly lovely uses of color and camera views that visually capture the emotion that drives the film. Within silent moments, and looks exchanged between Cooke and O’Connell, a lot is still said. Their performances and chemistry are truly amazing, and it’s really their film.

When I considered what to critique about the film I found myself only lingering on what it was that made is so striking and lovely. Similar to the desire to only focus on the happy, sentimental moments of a past relationship, I had trouble doing anything else. Regardless of the science or fiction of it, the sincerity spoke volumes. The choices of what to show of their past leaned nostalgic, but purposeful, as those instances are the heart of their love.

Conclusion: Little Fish

While it is still early in the year, I can’t deny this is one of the best films I’ve seen so far. Profound, gorgeously shot and performed, Little Fish is a film that is unforgettable.

Have you seen the film? What are your thoughts? Or some of your other favorite romances? Let us know your comments below!

Little Fish will be in limited release in theaters and VOD on February 5th.

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