Typically reserved and inward-looking, this intriguing Icelandic docu-drama treads much the same water (sorry) as Robert Redford’s All Is Lost romp. But while the latter is a ripping yarn of high-tension on the high seas, The Deep is far more remarkable because it’s a credible re-telling of actual events.
The Deep explores the unlikely survival of a fisherman in the ice-cold waters of the North Atlantic. Its low-key, subdued delivery and slightly strange pacing deliver a ‘world cinema’ type of experience, not an edge-of-the seat Hollywood blockbuster. Of the two, I probably enjoyed The Deep more than All Is Lost – there’s scant sentimentality in the Icelandic production. Instead it’s full of minimalist, matter-of-fact observations which have the feel of real life about them. Everyday moments of mundanity (getting rip-snortingly slaughtered the night before going to sea; wishing you had the guts to ask the pretty girl for a date; guzzling milk straight from the carton and driving your mother batty in the process) sit alongside profound snapshots of the human condition: the nature of survival, of loss, of longing and so on.
Even the catastrophic events on board the fishing boat, which result in the whole crew being flung into an unforgiving ocean at night, are portrayed in stark fashion as a rapid sequence of hapless accidents occasioned by simple human incompetence. The speed with which an insignificant glitch escalates into an all-out emergency is brilliantly portrayed. The film-makers don’t milk these moments at all – instead they concentrate on the human story of the survivors, slipping under the sea or finding the strength to swim towards shore.
There are a couple of truly heart-rending moments when other fishing boats fail to see the men in the water… and then a compelling struggle for survival takes place as the central character finds the strength of will and reasons to go on living.
The latter part of the film can’t really match the dramatic quality of the earlier events; it’s inevitably subdued. But it quietly examines the realm of the survivor; whether we keep the promises we make to our maker when in dire straits, and how it might be possible to make peace and go on with living. All this is set against an extraordinary background of fire and ice, which contrasts the central character’s ordeal in the water with his childhood experience of a spectacular volcanic eruption which threatened to engulf the whole town. As a boy he returned with his family, cleaned up the ask, and carried on.
The Deep may be unpretentious in its delivery, but the actors’ performances are no less powerful for that restraint.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason