One Thursday afternoon, after Tea Time, I accepted a spur-of-the-moment invitation to attend a film screening at Emerson with the lovely Emily Sheehan. We left the HTC in a hurry, armed with a vegetable tray leftover from an event that day. On the T, we got into a long, intense conversation about writing. The train we were on ended up standing by at Hynes for what felt like forever, so by the time we finally made it to our destination, we were a tiny bit late and still very engaged in our discussion, so Emily never got a chance to really explain to me exactly what it was that we were seeing. All I knew was that the film was called Leviathan.
The first twenty minutes or so were blurry, vertigo-inducing shots of the deck of a fishing vessel at night. Bright floodlights, the orange fluorescent slickers of the fishermen, and hundreds upon hundreds of squirming, gasping fish. The only sounds were the loud mechanical noises of the boat, the waves beating the hull, and the indistinct voices of the men. Eventually, the images stabilized somewhat, and I realized that there would be no dialogue, no narrative, no plot. At one point, the camera focused on a fish head flopping on the deck for several minutes until finally it disappeared overboard. Once I stopped trying to figure out what was going to happen, I was able to shift my focus to appreciate the composition of the shots, some of which were actually quite beautiful. Halfway through, Emily handed me something. It took me a minute to realize that it was a slice of raw pepper from the veggie tray. So there I was, watching this strikingly composed shot of fish blood pouring over the side of a boat, while my friend fed me raw vegetables in the dark.
After the film, the filmmaker came forward, along with an ethnographer and a film scholar. The ethnographer was interested in the cultural, social, and political aspects of the fishing industry. The film scholar was interested in the broader themes she had drawn from the barrage of images. Both were very curious about the filmmaker’s intent—what message was he trying to send? What was the ending of the film—the captain falling asleep and the ship getting lost at sea—an allegory for? And what about the title, Leviathan? What was the intended metaphor there? Much to the two specialists’ dismay, the filmmaker himself didn’t answer these questions to their satisfaction. He wasn’t trying to preach, he said with a trace of annoyance, just to depict. The title was a working title that stuck, not an allusion to some allegory for man versus nature or what have you.
The idea that not everything has to be an allegory reminded me of an experience I had last September. Behind CAS, by the BU Beach, is an area paved with brick. In the middle of it is a mulched bed around the base of a tree. The roots of this tree, instead of pushing up on the bricks from beneath and displacing them like they usually would, have actually grown between them in these perfect straight lines and right angles. The first time I noticed this, I felt a sudden burst of what can only be described as joy. Just because those roots existed. I mean, I could have made up some cheesy metaphor about how “life breaks through” or some other nonsense. But I didn’t need to; the roots themselves in their unexpectedness and aesthetic beauty were enough.
Sometimes it’s okay to just appreciate things. A flopping fish head. Eating raw peppers in a dark theater while watching a pretentious art film. Nature doing something unexpected. Stories are beautiful, but so are isolated moments. The moral here is that not everything has a moral; so many things in the world are valid on their own.