As a kid, nothing was better on a very hot and humid summer day in Florida then to swim in our gigantic pool. Since it was Florida, there were many, many hot summer days and laps tend to get boring. Right around the time of The Little Mermaid, my friends and I would jump into the pool, pretend we had rainbow colored fishtails, and have wild adventures under the sea.
As time passed and we lived longer on land, the days of mermaids, sunken ships full of treasure, and underwater kingdoms faded. It was not until viewing the film, Ondine, did I recall these days with a glimmer of marvel and remembered magic.
Ondine is about a fisherman who catches a woman in his nets and starts to believe again that even in a world filled with gloom one can find rays of light in unpredictable places. Like NBC’s show Heroes, this story takes place in the real world and is surprisingly shot in the same location as the film portrays. It doesn’t need crappy CGI or wizard wands bought at Ollivander’s to perpetuate a feeling in the extraordinary, but rather the viewer’s imagination and long forgotten adventures in the swimming pool.
The film combines several different fables of water creatures to form its own slowly discovered mythology. Colin Farrell plays Syracuse, a fisherman down on his luck and struggling to become a better man in a close knit community that refuses to forget his drunken ways. Colin Farrell is the perfect match for this part, as I’m sure he can relate to at least the latter part of his character’s life.
One day Syracuse catches a woman in his nets who unlike the fish, is rather appreciative of being found. Her name is Ondine and from the beginning she displays some off kilter habits. Originating in Northern Europe, an Undine is a water nymph who can entrance the seas with her voice. She gains a soul by marrying a man and having his child. In the film, Ondine’s songs entrance the fish to fall into the nets of Syracuse and Syracuse to fall into the net of Ondine.
As Syracuse breathes life into Ondine by giving her a safe haven, so does Ondine give Syracuse a chance to breath in his new path. Ondine swears him to secrecy, but mystified, he seeks counsel with the town’s priest and relays his findings in the form of a fairytale to his daughter, Annie.
It’s refreshing to see an onscreen priest who’s not villainized and also has a sense of humanity. His daughter, not yet grown, still has eyes full of wonder and an open mind despite her handicapped predisposition. She also becomes entranced by the mysterious woman. After much research, she logically resolves Ondine to be a Selkie.
Having never heard of selkies before this film I did a little mythological homework of my own. Across the sea in Ireland and Scotland, selkies are seals who shed their skins to become humans and can only stay on land for a short sojourn. If a man hides her pelt, she can marry him, but must remain on land. Upon finding her seal skin, selkies often immediately dive back in the water. Female selkie’s were ahead of their time.
They may have loved their land husbands and children but it didn’t stop them from seeking adventure in the sea. Now, if only they could have the best of both worlds? As often goes with myths made by man and shows of Mad Men, the woman is limited by her time and only has stark black and white choices.
Like the film’s imperfect characters, so too is the film. This film’s pacing leaves much to be desired as the viewer is yanked from the calm waters of the mystic deep and onto the dangerous shores of the outside world in a swift tonal shift. The cinematography captures the cold waters of Ireland and the dreary colors that attempt to envelope Syracuse and Ondine in their dark pasts. Although the structure could be fine tuned, the script’s characters are well written and accurately show rather than verbalize how people like the safety of their chosen nets.
If you’re looking for an escape from the desert sand of the Prince of Persia, the blood of Eclipse, or the ogres of Shrek Forever After, I recommend Ondine. Upon taking a dip in this film’s cold sea, you just might be surprised to find gills you thought had long since disappeared.