09 March 2011

Fish Tank: The Spoiler Fest

Here There Be Spoilers! (And Dragons in the Fish Tank!)
by Kristin Battestella

Please see our tame critique of Fish Tank here if you want to remain chaste and unspoilt.

Don't Say I didn't warn you!

Well, then, I’ve speculated and suggested, and if you’ve researched Fish Tank online elsewhere, you probably know that things turn seriously drastic in the final act of the film.  I’ve given the philosophies and generalities, but now we can talk about the finite layers and details of the juicy drama!

Fish Tank (Criterion Collection)

  1. Are there hints to Connor’s Marital Status? Yes indeed the careful viewer can see Connor’s twist coming throughout the film. Honestly, what hip guy drives a mini wagon car thing like that?  If the tattoo on his arm were really for an ex, wouldn’t he have the design redone and not just stick with a meaningless name? Naturally, there may be differences in Britain, but everything you wanted to know about Connor would have been revealed on his pay stub- if Mia knew how to read it, that is. Income, insurances, dependents and all that- the fact that she didn’t understand how to read it again proves she’s still a kid with no sense of real word details.  Connor’s immediate casual banter with both daughters, the way he barters with Tyler on the first morning- why is this guy, unlike most others, so comfortable with tag along kids? He makes 3 cups of tea- is he used to doing things in threes per his family?  He doesn’t object to a family road trip, in fact, he is the one who invites the girls along. Wouldn’t he rather spend some time alone with the hottie he’s just met?  Is he that used to having a family around? Instead of looking at Joanne in the car, he looks in the rearview mirror at the girls when he’s singing. Does he normally sing in the car and expects reaction or someone to join in? We can debate the sexuality and motivations of his taking of Mia’s pants after he carries her to bed-Fassbender himself says he did not perceive that scene as sexual- but why would he think of such a thing anyway-unless he is used to carrying someone to bed?  Later, he also carries Tyler up and comes back down stairs to retrieve her pillow- again, like he expects a child to cry for a particular blanket or doll.  Connor goes out of his way to get in the girl’s good graces, asking Mia if it’s all right if he stays with them.  Now, I don’t understand why in English English they say ‘us’ in the singular. However, when Mia calls Connor’s numbers, his phone message says, “This is Connor, leave us a message.” Later, he claims his cell phone battery died, so this was most likely his home phone. When Mia calls his work, they claim he’s taken a week’s vacation, and have no problem giving that information to a young girl over the phone.  Does a young girl, perhaps a child, often call work for her father? There are plenty of kids and families playing in his neighborhood, no one is surprised Mia is about his house.  Careful viewers will see the women’s gardening gloves by his window, the plant on Connor’s table. There is one can of Coke next to the beer in fridge- on the top shelf where a kid can’t reach! Toy bracelets are also on the table, and the scooter’s box is blurred in the frame behind Mia before she sees it. Actually, perhaps it’s not a question of if Connor has a family, but frankly, how many of these families could he have? If he hadn’t slept with Mia, how long would he have carried on with Joanne? Connor’s real life doesn’t seem so bad- why would he leave it? Did he marry young thanks to getting a girl pregnant and wants to reclaim his lost kicks- just like Joanne? We really never find out any more about Connor than we knew at the start, because Mia doesn’t get the complete picture.

  1.  Does Mia come onto Connor?  A provocative theory, I know.  We definitely perceive him as the older, wiser, and should have known better man.  However, if we could attempt to see the film from his perspective, I think Mia would be very taunting indeed.  Sure, the first morning when he catches her dancing was just hot to happen, but she calls him a “donkey’s knob” at the party. Did he know she was pretending to be asleep when he carried her? She was lying in her mother’s bed where he just spent the night, what was she implying? Yeah, mom and I share boyfriends all the time! By undressing her, was he testing her reaction to him? Honestly, I don’t care if it is Michael Good God mother fucking Fassbender, I’m damn ticklish and would definitely recoil if someone started undressing me.  How can she stay so still unless she wanted him to take her pants off?  At that point, did he think her young and juvenile, because things certainly change when she comes downstairs in her underwear.  Is she not flirting with him in the kitchen by contesting her mother over being half-naked? Why would Joanne care now unless she is aware Connor is looking at her daughter? He was being kind and carrying her like a kid when she hurt her foot at the lake- but he had to notice the way she was holding onto him and resting her head on his shoulder. Is she playing a little ‘look, but don’t touch!’ with him? She does dance for him in the parking lot when asked, pleased to show off before him until her mother embarrasses her.  Surely, he knew he didn’t tell her where he worked- which means he also knew she had been snooping in his wallet.  He had to know it was for adult dancing on the flyer- but Mia says don’t tell her mother.  What else, like her sex life, does she hide from her mom? Did he take these events as signs of her pressing her maturity upon him? Repeatedly she tells him she is not a kid and he is not her parent, that he is nothing to her- as in, he is eligible to Mia? She brings Billy (Harry Treadaway, City of Ember) to his work to make Connor jealous- and when he suggests Billy is too old, Mia claims it is sexual. Was all this orchestrated to get a reaction from him? When they do finally have sex, he talks as if she liked it and wanted it. Sweet Jesus, the things Fassy says! In Connor’s mind, was she asking for it?  At best, perhaps he initially saw her as a kid with a crush, but as the days went on, did Mia turn into some sort of unknowing temptress luring him to worse on a hot and heavy drunken night? We try to find some sort of justification because we like The Fass. We don’t want to think him as bad even if she’s 15. This was however, in a strange way, both consensual and abuse at the same time.  She knew she liked him, and better her to be with someone she liked than be raped by a creepy, nasty non-Fassy older man.  However, Mia also seems very childlike and unaware of her feminine wiles- or what they are truly capable of doing.

  1.  Were Connor’s actions premeditated?  Hmm, by contrast, we have to consider Connor’s potentially pedophile culpability.  I don’t think his attraction and eventual encounter with Mia was premeditated, as some certainly may. Strange to say that the film somehow leaves the issue open to interpretation. Rightly or wrongly because of him or her, his attraction does grow, there is no doubt. However, it clearly seems the affair with Joanne and his moving in with them was indeed carefully orchestrated.  Joanne- thinking Connor complete perfection- obviously did not know he was married. If it’s possible to have something more disturbing than an out and out pedophile plan, it’s that we don’t really know Connor’s motivations.  Does he periodically leave his wife for these types of flings?  How did he meet Joanne anyway? Judging by Joanne’s phone conversations with friends, this is a new whirlwind romance.  However, this couldn’t have been super spur of the moment if he was so able to coordinate keeping the car, his work schedule, and phone status. He has already made up a convenient excuse about a turbulent arrangement with his mother. Recalling his mysterious phone call when they went fishing, Mia asks if his mom kicked him out, and he agrees its something like that- lying with a smile!  Connor remains at work until his encounter with Mia. How does he explain her appearances there unless his buddies or employer at least know of his separation? There were other guy and gal friends at the party- where they aware of all this? Despite his charm, the fact that we don’t know what happened before the opening of the film further implies all sorts of creepy things about Connor.  If a man is so ready to deceive his family and effectively prey upon another, then the leap to other nefarious abuses doesn’t seem that far behind.  His ambiguity and hidden womanizing at best proves he really just shouldn’t be trusted around any attractive women regardless of age.  After they have sex, Connor still supports Mia’s audition and acts like a dad again, as if they just had to get the temptation out and that isn’t how he really feels about her- but which are his true colors? Again, it is Fassbender who lets Connor get away with these things.  He is a charming, good-looking jerk in many ways. If Connor looked like a Florida registered sex offender mug shot, we would think differently.  Instead, everyone looks the other way as he says they will talk about it tomorrow. He’s always putting off his problems.  While he didn’t seem to set out to abuse young girls, Connor is an opportunistic bigamist and all around irresponsible and selfish guy.  Though bad, is that a crime?

  1. Is there something suggestive in Conner’s relationship with Tyler? Knowing what we know about Connor and Mia, it is certainly possible to see potentially iffy happenings between him and young Tyler.  While some of their relationship seems wonderfully fatherly and honest- the way he carries her to bed and takes her places- some of it gets a little too weird. Tyler hasn’t even met Connor yet when she is at the door in her tiny nightgown. He had gone upstairs after meeting Mia and says he met “one” daughter.  Where did Tyler learn to ask strange men for money to open the gate so he can get out the door anyway? (Isn’t that the definition of prostitution?!) While he could be used to such games with his own daughter, it is uncomfortable that he tickles a little girl he doesn’t know until she gives him a discount.  What’s even weirder is their off camera conversation in the bathroom. Tyler wants him to hurry up and shave so she can go to bathroom, and Connor says he doesn’t care and she should come on in.  Um, what? Okay, not only would most guys be grossed out by all that regardless, but hello, that’s nasty. Isn’t that even weird between a dad and a daughter, much less a stranger and a little girl?  When Tyler is reluctant and tells him to close his eyes, he jokes he can’t because he will cut himself shaving.  All of this happens while Mia mails her audition tape, and we never see them in the bathroom together.  So, what is Arnold implying by letting us overhear this conversation?  Is this a bizarre suggestion at the disastrous mix of mixing male role model with inappropriate sex that is to come with Mia? Or, is it a completely innocent example at his comfort with kids? But it’s just too damn casual to be nice, isn’t it?

  1. Did Mia and Billy have sex? Was Mia’s declaration that she had just slept with Billy just to impress Connor? Was it a vain attempt to stir something in her mother, who clearly does not respond positively? Joanne further insists that Mia should be shipped off to sleep with as many boys as she wants at her reform school.  But was what Mia said true? On one hand, kids in a drunken situation alone with nothing to do probably would screw around.  They really haven’t been educated on the consequences and don’t have much else to do in this perpetual cycle of youth breeding youth anyway.  So, at the least, you have to speculate that they certainly fooled around in some way. I do believe they did have full intercourse, because Mia doesn’t appear to be a virgin with Connor. Naturally, because of what we see in Fish Tank, one might assume that if we didn’t see Mia and Billy have sex, then they must not have.  However, it probably wasn’t that good or important for Mia, or she was just doing it because she saw her Mom and Connor and wanted to prove herself mature. It seems weird to say, but Mia probably did not enjoy it as much as Billy did- unlike her encounter with Connor, which ends up the other way around. What’s so upsetting about the scene with Connor is that Mia does seem to orgasm, and again what he says to her is just the worst!  Fassman’s talking dirty and asking her questions!  Mia doesn’t feel they did anything wrong and ends up more infatuated with Connor.  In fact, Mia may have had sex with Billy just to practice or be better for Connor.  Ew, I feel really weird writing that!  Ah, it’s nice to have a well-told, intelligent film that handles such taboo topics whether we’re ready to see them or not.

  1. When does it become sexual between Connor and Mia? While for Mia, there is an instant attraction to Connor whether she fully realizes what is happening or not, when does the attraction happen for Connor? Was it just drunken titillation for one night, or did it grow on him sooner? His first day there, he lets her film him as he undresses, and gets super close to her for an opinion on his cologne. The camera angle here is lovely, even innocent in her enjoying how a man smells, probably for the first time.  He even asks her is she thinks he’s the best thanks to him giving her a camera- and his response to her insult is to spank her.  Well, so much for the innocence!  Again, you can speculate about him carrying her to bed and taking her pants off, but without a doubt there is definitely kinky here. While he clearly has the mom, Connor always ends up going for Mia when Joanne is not there.  When she comes upstairs and embarrasses Mia by saying she will probably break his camera, he warns Mia she’ll get another hiding. Previously he also told her she could have the camera only if she smiled, for “you look nice when you smile.” His tone is not in feigned kindness or a punishment jest; it’s flirtatious, as if something just happened that should be kept between them. I think Mia didn’t really know it, but the spanking turns her on.  She’s shocked but geez, she was on his lap struggling while he hit her in the ass, really! That night she is watching the video of him instead of her audition tape! It definitely had an effect on her. Likewise, the half blacked out camera shots for the sex scene with Joanne are wonderfully filmed.  Literally, the frame is outside the door, peaking in like Mia. Again, it is weird that she could care less about seeing her mother have sex, its Connor’s prowess in which she’s interested. Didn’t they know the kids would hear? They do get pretty loud! I think Connor does look up to the cracked door, too. Did he know she was watching? Why would Mia slam her door, admitting she heard, to say the least?  She goes after Billy the next day and brings him to the store to make Connor jealous. He apparently realizes this, as if he knows he can spank and mess with Mia but screw Joanne.  Mia jumps on his back again like she can play with him, too.  She declares she is not a kid, and he agrees and stuffs his money down her shirt. The underlying attraction was always there, so when the opportunity presents itself with alcohol removing all of his censors and inhibitions, Connor lets his id win. Now he puts the wasted Joanne to bed like a child in a much more fatherly tone. He didn’t get his rocks off with her and Mia comes downstairs admitting they’ve been “funny” to each other.  The dialogue here lets the audience know having sex with Mia has definitely occurred to him at this point.  The way he asks if they are still friends and offers her a drink- he is so full of compliments, but they don’t seem as genuine as when they first met. Oh, her hair is better down and she’s a “good girl” for getting that audition. Connor seems on the make, “If you can’t do it in front of me now, how are you doing to do it in front of all those people? I think you’re great already. Just thought I could help. It’s your call.”  Why does he put the ball in her court? He wants her sensuality to come out full force, doesn’t he?  The silhouetted and naturally lit dance scenes look wonderful- this is all well and good from Mia’s perspective, even if we-and he- know it’s iffy.  There’s so much simple beauty amid what turns into, actually, an ugly scene. Though steamy, their sex scene feels uncomfortable to watch but no less enthralling at the same time. On my first viewing, I kept asking, ‘How far is this scene going to go? Oh my!’ The filming is both dreamlike in lighting-ie this is really happening!- for her, but also shadowed out and hidden like abuse or scandalous sex one doesn’t talk about, much less see onscreen.

  1. Did Joanne know what happened? Tyler claims to know what happened between Mia and Connor and threatens to tell their Mom.  How much did she know, and what did Joanne deduce? Is Mia looking for the birth control she found earlier when Joanne confesses she almost had Mia aborted?  Does Joanne finally realize her jealousy and confess that having Mia was the stem of all her troubles? Clearly it wasn’t, but the verbal and dialogue suggestions of what happened were in the film all along.  The fish is “a slippery little fucker!” and the TV sounds offer something like “full male nudity” and “wearing a ski mask waving his cock about.” Did Joanne finally see and resent? Her answer is to kick Mia out for whatever greener pastures she can find. Will it be any better for Mia? And how could Tyler fully comprehend anything that was happening?  Could this all have ended amicably? Would Joanne learn her lesson and appreciate her children more? No.  Simply because, in some ways, this could have been a beautiful relationship between Connor and Mia- a better relationship than Joanne had with him. If Connor and Mia learned to love each other as more than mentor and daughter type figure, that could have been fine- so long as it didn’t become sexual. Or, if she were just a little older and he was not dating her mom! Forget that he is actually married- what if they both got pregnant by him?!

  1. Why did Mia pee on the floor and kidnap Kiera? When Mia discovers Connor’s family, I don’t think it is vengeance or a territory statement when she pees.  She’s shocked and traumatized, showing just how childlike and in over her head she really is. The song Connor’s daughter Kiera is singing on the video is exactly how Mia feels. She doesn’t understand that her being 15 is a problem “if you like someone” and is just as juvenile as Kiera, who is what, 8 tops? The peeing is the physical symbolism of how young, literally unable to control her bowels Mia is- like a child embarrassed at the school play. Afterward, she ends up going upstairs in the bathroom to wash her face and calm down.  As we debate Connor’s preconceived plans, I don’t think Mia planned to harm his family, but rather it was a knee jerk, spur of the moment decision.  She wants to hurt him the way he has hurt her- again in a purely undeveloped childlike manner.  Unfortunately, she does just as much bad to Kiera as Connor did to her, perhaps worse trauma in fact than the early threats of rape in the film do. Being a teenager, however, and older than Kiera, Mia is horrible and deceptive, luring her away with ice cream and games. The way we expected Connor to know better and suspect he was a pedophile all along, Mia certainly looks like an expert kidnapper!   As the abduction goes on however, we see how much Mia is screwing it up, because again she’s a child who doesn’t know what to do. What did she intend to do- bring Kiera home to her mother so Joanne will like her and hate Connor? Make Connor come back to the house and they can all be a family? Mia acts like her mother towards Kiera, yelling, cursing, hitting, you know, endangering the welfare of a minor and all that.  Arnold returns to great water symbolism here. Everyone is out of the fish tank now and into the turbulent sea, drowning because no one can swim. 

  1.  In the end, who suffers the most here? Well, the kids caught in the perpetual cycle of the downtrodden and abuses certainly pay the consequences for all, don’t they?  They are the ones ruined by the elder folk. Tyler says, “Say hi to the whales!” not even realizing how small her world is or what is out there, ie Wales. Most of us never really go beyond our usual little space, do we?  Despite his drastic influence, as quickly as Connor came into Mia’s life, he is gone. Mia won’t strip for the dance audition, proving she’s not ready to grow up too soon, like Joanne had to by having her.  Mia leaves Connor’s CD behind too, goes off to where ever, and maybe its better, maybe it won’t be.  When she rescues Kiera, hugs her, and takes her home, now Mia has perhaps grown up some.  She really was a kid who did wrong, and needed sorting out and punishing as Connor said.  Now he does hit her, and rightfully so.  Mia learned how to grow up the hard way, eh?  That’s life. Billy was stealing parts to get a car together and get out of dodge; you do what you have to do. The horse is dead, a bitter end, no reason to stay. Now Mia can finally cry because the lock is loose, things can’t go back to the way they were.  Bad as they had been, its no one else’s fault for the worst now. Joanne certainly thinks it will be better- or she finally grows up too late as Mia has grown up too soon. “I hate you! I hate you too!”  They had to see the best and worst of their family to appreciate what could have been. Mia’s smile and her getting out of the fish bowl implies that there is hope, maybe, for the next generation. We’ll just have to wait and see.


Mrs. Villarosa said...

Just wanted to say that I really appreciated your review. It's really in-depth and it made me want to watch this movie. I was going to skip it (the whole banging mom's new boyfriend thing creeped me out too much) but now it seems really interesting. Kudos!

Kristin Battestella said...

Hi Mrs. Villarosa! Thanks for stopping by and taking time to show your appreciation by commenting!

I'm glad you've been inspired to see Fish Tank. It is creepy, but intellectual and quality film at the same time. Enjoy!