A groundbreaking, immersive portrait of New England’s contemporary commercial fishing industry, Leviathan is a truly genre-bending work of cinema. Produced as a documentary, it has nevertheless been lauded as “the best horror film of the year,” “an action movie par excellence,” and a “spectacular… optic-aural overload whose aim [is] to knock us off our bearings…”*
Made by Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Foreign Parts), Leviathan follows a hulking groundfish trawler on a weeks-long fishing expedition through the murky black waters off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts – a city that once inspired Melville’s Moby Dick, and which is currently the country’s largest fishing port. In an effort to document the activities and events that occurred on and around this vessel, the filmmakers employed multiple, miniature GoPro video cameras (the kind frequently utilized by extreme sports enthusiasts), which were passed freely from film crew to ship crew, submerged below sea level, immersed in piles of flopping fish, attached to working machinery, and hoisted to bird’s-eye level. What results is not a detached, observational report about fishing, but a profoundly vivid “shared anthropology” (Paravel), or a multi-perspective record of the commercial fishing world that speaks not only to the realities of the fishermen it depicts, but also to those of the fish they catch, the ship they inhabit, the birds that follow in their wake, and ultimately, the sea itself.
Almost entirely dialogue-free, but mesmerizing and gripping throughout, Leviathan is a cosmic portrait of one of mankind’s oldest endeavors that “looks and sounds like no other documentary in memory.”**
*Chris Chang, “Rock in a Hard Place,” Film Comment 49:1 (Jan/Feb 2013), p. 16; Jordan Cronk, “Toronto International Film Festival 2012: Leviathan,” slantmagazine.com; Phil Coldiron, “Blood and Thunder: Enter the Leviathan,” Cinema Scope 52 (Fall, 2012), p. 8.
**Dennis Lim, “The Merger of Academia and Art House: Harvard Filmmakers’ Messy World,” New York Times, 2 September 2012, p. AR8.