The new film follows scientists and photographers who are attempting to show the world what’s happening underwater. It’s exceptionally timely and provocative, because coral reefs are experiencing the worst bleaching and death-spiral ever witnessed.
Already a crowd pleaser at its premiere at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival, this film follows in the footstep’s of the Oscar-nominated film, Chasing Ice, about climate change’s stunning visuals in frigid Greenland. The director Jeff Orlowski has now turned his attention to the biggest tropical, biological victim of a warming planet: shallow reefs built by coral animals.
The film has been purchased by Netflix, and I can’t wait to see it. It features a special camera, used by the XL Catlin Seaview Survey, to show reefs in 360 degree technicolor. These images allow us to see reefs across the planet like never before.
Critic site RogerEbert.com calls it a “landmark film,” and I’m betting that it’s pure Oscar gold.
What does The Red Turtle mean? How are we supposed to interpret a movie with no dialogue and no explanations? Not easily.
The Oscar-nominated animation has not yet prompted an onslaught of online opinion. It offers a green and blue canvas for people to paint their own portraits and impose their own perceptions onto this rectangular dream. Meditative and mysterious, the film also feels allegorical. It’s an extended bedtime story for adults.
Others articles discuss the director (Michaël Dudok de Wit of the Netherlands) and the art of the animation (Studio Ghibli of Japan), but I want to explore the symbolism of the film. Let’s start with the title, which is what drew me to see it.
A sea turtle with a red shell is exceptional, improbable, and startling. The color red could be interpreted to indicate danger, blood, passion, and other strong emotions. But turtles are toothless. Sea turtles do not threaten humans, although this red turtle does disrupt the protagonist’s plans to escape the deserted island. A silent siren, she controls his destiny. She is a stop sign.
The Turtle of the Red Shell
Sea turtles are exceptionally ancient, amphibious survivors in the tree of life, yet they are highly threatened by human activity. They represent our connection to the past and our alienation in the present. They know things that we can’t, and they are pacific. In contrast, humans are young and violent. We’re jealous and discontent.
The nameless main character is a non-turtle, an every-man, representing a lost soul and a frustrated loner. His conscious desire is to escape, like the delicate, hatchling sea turtles that scatter into the sea, but he is a failure. He has no home, no shell. The turtle, in its shell, is always home.
Conception and Rebirth
The film’s narrative unfolds as a creation myth, with Eve eventually arising from the red turtle’s shell and giving birth to a son, creating a trinity. This expansion represents the man’s unconscious desire to create. He believed that his true life existed outside of the island, in another place and time, but his spirit conjured up new life from within. The red turtle is his tormentor, and his deliverer.
The son is a hybrid who is free to join the turtles. He achieves what the father could not, and he chooses the feminine path of his mother. Both father and son experience the same rebirthing process after falling into the cave, yet the son struggles much less. He is becoming more harmonious, more integrated with nature than the father. He is returning to the amphibious womb of the ocean.
But a Dream
The Red Turtle could be enjoyed as an extended dream sequence, like the Technicolor portion of the Wizard of Oz. There are dreams within the dream, as when the man flies over a pier or when he hears a string quartet. But he awakens to the confines of his tropical island.
The island nurtures him with food, water, and eventually a mate. At times it turns violent and dangerous, and eventually he falls asleep on the sand, forever. He achieves peace and belonging. Just as the turtle will return to the sea, he will return to the sand.
This interpretation is one of many possibilities, such a this one from Paste, calling it “more impressionistic than thematic.” You could look at the silence as ambivalence; the island could be the protagonist; the turtle could be a hallucination.
My mother is a turtle.
I may find another meaning in the future, but today I see it this way: the turtle is a higher being, a more advanced consciousness, and we are struggling to connect with it, just as many people are struggling in today’s world to reconnect with Nature. We are lost. Despite our wired world, we are disconnected.
So many people today envision the world in screens. They fear peering away from their phones and their computers, lest they miss something important. They need a reminder that stories have magic and power to heal, whereas a screen is only a tool. Screens can convey stories, but only the interpreter can infuse them with meaning.
The Red Turtle, while only a film, is also a chance to meditate on a moving yet perplexing story. It’s an invitation to dream of something beyond the rectangle.
For more photos of signs, check out My favorite signs at the Women’s March on Washington from The Washington Post.
All my life I’ve been proud to be an American. I’m worried that those days are ending.
To all the nations of the world, let me say: I’m sorry that we’re letting you down. I’m so embarrassed. I can barely express my anguish.
Please don’t give up on us. Maybe this is temporary insanity. Maybe we’ll renew our belief in the true American dream—freedom—that our true leaders have shared with the world.
We still have one day more to dream.
Religious leaders are pleading for president-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration to include prayers for the Earth. Five prominent clergy sent the letter last Friday, one week before this Friday’s event, to invited spiritual speakers, as reported by Greenwire.
“We are collectively concerned about what we can expect for the quality of air and water, and the protection of our precious public lands,” state the multi-denominational letter. It references Pope Francis’s environmental tome, Laudato Si’, and Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical relief agency led by Rev. Franklin Graham, who is also President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The letter is addressed to four of the six tapped to pray at the inauguration:
- Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York
- Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center
- Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference
- Rev. Franklin Graham
The letter asks them to “say a few words that would encourage the President and his team to make clean air and water, a safe climate for future generations, and protected public lands a top priority.”
It is unclear why the letter was not addressed to the other two invited televangelists who both preach a prosperity gospel: Bishop Wayne T. Jackson of Detroit and Pastor Paula White of greater Orlando, who is called Trump’s personal minister.
Prayers have been a tradition at U.S. presidential inaugurations since 1937. Rev. Billy Graham, 98, presided at inaugurations for Presidents Nixon, George H. W. Bush, and Bill Clinton. His son Rev. Franklin Graham, 64, prayed for George W. Bush in 2001 and will return Friday for Donald Trump.
The choir of the Washington National Cathedral will perform at the inauguration, and on Saturday it will host an interfaith prayer service for the new president. At Monday’s memorial service for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the Cathedral hosted an event where speakers openly challenged the incoming president.
The tradition of a church service before the inaugural ceremony will continue. The Washington Post reports: “Trump, who identifies as a Presbyterian, plans to follow tradition and attend a private family church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church near the White House the morning of the inauguration.”
On this holiday in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., pause for a moment to think about the world’s population by race. Things are not black and white.
The majority is Asian, with nearly two-thirds of the world’s 7+ billion people living in the region shared by India and China.
As the world’s second most populated continent, Africa has more than 1 billion people, which is larger than North and South America combined. Combine Europe and North America, based on these Wikipedia numbers, and it reaches 1.4 billion. But it’s unclear if the world is more “white” than “black.”
Here’s a map that tries to visualize nations by their population instead of their geography alone:
If the world’s most populated continents could be represented by a classroom of about 25 students, you would expect to see this approximation: 15 students from Asia, 5 from Europe and North America, 4 from Africa, and 1 from South America.
This worldview may be disturbing to people who want to think they live in the center of the universe (I’m talking to you, New Yorkers). It may be disturbing to those who think their survival depends on being a part of the majority. Yes, there is a certain truth behind the saying of “safety in numbers.”
But you are a minority. Whether by race, or religion, or sexual orientation, or economic status, you are a minority. In one way or another, everyone falls into minority status. And there’s nothing wrong with that! Diversity is reality.
you are a minority.
Does that scare you? Does than make you unsafe or weak? That is for you to decide. MLK Jr. says it could make you better.
Today, you could make the world better. But first, it may require you to accept the fact that you, yes you, are a minority.