The Red Turtle

Movie (1 ep x 81 min)
3.678 out of 5 from 852 votes
Rank #3,388

The dialogue-free picture centers on a man shipwrecked on a tropical island inhabited by turtles, crabs and birds. When he builds a wooden raft, he is confronted by the titular turtle. The story then follows the milestones in his life on the island which include meeting a woman and starting a family.

Source: ANN

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*SPOILER ALERT* THE STORY: It begins with a man alone in the open roiling sea, tossed about until he is swept ashore on a small deserted island where he finds fresh water, food, and a safe haven yet yearns to be be free of it, constantly building rafts on which he might escape. A large red sea turtle scuttles his bamboo crafts each and every time, forcing him back to the beach. When the turtle herself comes ashore one day, angered by her refusal to let him leave, the Man beats her and then flips her on her shell, exposing her to the sun’s heat, eventually killing her. From her shell though emerges a beautiful young woman, whom the Man takes to immediately, and in time shares great love. They have a baby, a boy who is curious and as he grows, rebellious, eager to explore, wanting to discover what lies beyond the horizon. It breaks his parent’s hearts, even if there is inevitability to his actions. As time passes, the Man and Woman soon succumb to their natural ends as she retakes the form of a turtle and returns to the sea. <figure id="attachment_32809" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 650px;"><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics</figcaption></figure> WHAT IT MEANS:  Let’s start with the larger theme, which is our relationship with nature herself. We begin with a young man cast to the sea, though we don’t see how. Representing Mankind, he is the untamed and directionless figure, taken by the swells and whim of the waves. Delivered to the shores of safety, he is frightened but more so curious, an explorer, his baser needs propelling him inward to seek out sustenance. The island is not paradise though it is home. And yet, not. Man strives to break from it. In numerous attempts, he builds rafts from the bamboo groves inland and sets about to sail away back to an unseen place beyond the horizon (a theme revisited later). He manages to get only so far though as he meets with disaster each time by the aggressive red turtle who crushes the beams and sinks his crafts. But why? To understand the turtle metaphorically, we must understand the turtle in reality, a species of many varieties that lives in the great vastness of the sea only to return to land every few years to lay eggs, of which, from large numbers laid, only a very small percentage survive. Noble and long-lived, they are a symbol of wisdom, knowledge, longevity, peace, strength, creativity and much more to many cultures around the world. <figure id="attachment_32669" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 650px;"><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics</figcaption></figure> With that said, of all the sea creatures in the ocean, it makes sense then that the form Mother Nature would take in the story is that of a sea turtle. What’s important however is that in destroying the rafts, she is not destroying Man, but in fact, very much the opposite, securing his survival on the nearby island, to which she had provided all he needs. Except one. What he needs most is companionship, and in turn, descendants, and legacy. By coming ashore, a struggle that, much like reality, exhausts her, the turtle sacrifices herself, like the parallel creature of reality, laying the eggs of the future. But what we see is Man’s rejection of and misunderstanding of her value as he beats her head with a bamboo shaft and then quite cruelly tips her upside down where her underbelly bakes in the sun. It’s a harrowing sequence. <figure id="attachment_32806" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 650px;"><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics</figcaption></figure> This action represents Man’s short-sightedness, his impulse to defend the immediate rather than consider the longterm. The red turtle has purpose on the beach but is also highly vulnerable, something the Man exploits, and yet there is a sense she recognizes this, and we see smaller themes form as the next phase begins. There is untapped power within nature that Man releases, and there is a feeling perhaps that the bond between the two begins with her metamorphosis, something only triggered by his actions. Once the turtle dies, its shell cracks, and the Man is stunned find that within the hollows of the dead turtle is a young woman, herself unconscious and weakened. She is the real partner, a creator of life, and a tamer of his wilds. While she lays nestled in the broken shell, the Man takes to protecting her, and we see a shift in attitude where nature is once again held with care. As the giver and bearer of life, she inspires Man’s maturity per se, to be better able to provide for and protect. The story then splinters, cleaving to tell the story of the human experience while continuing its parable on Man and nature. We see some familiar moments of a couple in love, bonding, sharing, and having a child. The island comes to represent the challenges of their (of our) responsibilities in doing so, but also the great emotional fluxes of what it means to raise and prepare the next generation to replace us. <blockquote> What we initially believed true, that he was shipwrecked at the start, has changed. The Man left his home, an island far away, just like now, as his own son will do. </blockquote> Of the many visual metaphors, most compelling is a deep hole atop one of the island cliffs that once fallen into is only escapable by committing to diving below the water at the bottom and wriggling through a small crevice to the open ocean on the other side. It is dangerous and wrought with peril. Both the Man and his son accidentally fall into that pool with both braving the process and coming through the challenge, dare I say, birthed to become better men. The point for each is that to make it, one must do it alone, first the Man because he is isolated, and second, the child when his mother teaches him how. The obstacle represents not only the tenacity of who we are, but also the importance of parental guidance and its impact on those who will carry that knowledge forward. <figure id="attachment_32804" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 650px;"><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics</figcaption></figure> As that boy grows to manhood, there is unease and eagerness about him. Curious and hungry to learn, his eyes are always on the horizon, a reflection of his father. The island is his home, but we suspect now that it won’t be for long, and there comes a cyclical feel to the story as he is now the same age as his father when he arrived. What we initially believed true, that he was shipwrecked at the start, has changed. The Man left his home, an island far away, just like now, as his own son will do; the cycle of life told in patches of land on a giant sea. The turbulent emotions that surround the family concerning this comes in the form of a tsunami that washes over the island with great ferocity, sweeping it nearly desolate, ravaged, and empty of its once lush grandeur. For the young man, there is nothing left to keep him. The message is clear. It’s time to go. Meanwhile, we’ve seen the boy befriend his own sea turtles, a pair of green creatures who seem connected with him from when he was a small boy and whom both help carry him out to his destiny. The older man has taught his son well, Man’s next generation partnered with nature now in better and more compatible ways, and it will be him who shall carry that message and practice to those he meets on his adventure as an adult. <figure id="attachment_32805" class="wp-caption aligncenter" style="width: 650px;"><figcaption class="wp-caption-text">The Red Turtle, 2017 © Sony Pictures Classics</figcaption></figure> The film ends with the Man and the Woman passing of old age, alone together on the island, their time and contribution over. She transforms back into a giant red turtle and leaves him on the shore as she crawls back to the waves and disappears, her journey perhaps starting once again. Dudok de Wit closes a powerful story that challenges, one that is clearly environmental but more so deeply human, a chaotic tale that tasks us with understanding our place in the nature of things while at the same time telling the very story of who we are and what it means to be us. Source:


"This is a  fantasy drama film co-written and directed by Dutch animator Michaël Dudok de Wit and produced by Toshio Suzuki from Japan. The film is a co-production between Wild Bunch and Studio Ghibli, and tells the story of a man who becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island and meets a giant red female turtle." -Wikipedia The film has no dialogue, but that is not to say it is silent, as there are plenty of sounds from nature, music, and voices without words. This is pure visual storytelling that manages to blur the line between reality & fantasy in the most artistic way. There is a lot of symbolism, you can't be sure if what happens is an illusion or reality, as the events can be interpreted from different points of view, bringing you to different conclusions depending on what you choose to focus. There is no absolute answer. The closest thing I can think of is The Life of Pi, which shares the sea and a shipwreck as their common elements. Although the story has slow pacing, there is never a dull moment in the film. The silence makes your mind wander in the themes it presents: What do we really need in order to have a happy fulfilled life? The cycle of life, the place of humans in nature, the need for civilization and social interaction, etc. The art style is completely different from other Ghibli works, it's more realistic in the forms and shapes of the characters & backgrounds, but has kind of a watercolor texture, it feels like you are looking at the story moving in a painting. This is a film that I would recommend to everyone to give it a try, although it is probably not for kids due to the lack of comedy and I doubt they'll understand the story, but who knows? With no dialog at all, it also breaks apart all language barriers.


This film is what you point to when you want an example of how to tell a story without the need for dialogue. It is also the directorial debut of Michaël Dudok de Wit with Studio Ghibli and the European Studio Wild Bunch behind him. A fantastic way to make one's debut into feature films, that is for sure. Story and Characters The story revolves around a man without a name that we know of. He finds himself stranded on a strange island, giving vibes of the film Castaway (although it quickly stops feeling like that film). Eventually he finds a red turtle and this is where the film takes a turn for the strange.  Despite knowing almost nothing about him as the film goes on I was empathetic to his plight and wanted him to at least survive his ordeal if he could not find a way off the island. As the film progresses I was more and more endeared to the characters. I cannot say more as it would give away too much. It was paced very well, it didn’t feel like it was dragging at any point, and it also didn’t rush through scenes. The Technical Stuff On the technical level this film is great. The use of sound is extremely important with there is no dialogue, other than some grunts here and there, and they did a fine job. They were able to convey emotion effortlessly through the use of animation. Speaking of animation, this film is wonderfully animated, everything flows so well. It has to be one of the best looking films I had seen from 2016. Conclusion If it isn't apparent already, this film is a must watch especially for those that love to see great animation, with a strong story to boot.  A SpanglishJC 'Short Review' Daily Anime Marathon Club #5 Review

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