Original release: May 11th, 1988
Running time: 132 minutes
Country of origin: France
Original language: French
Writer and director: Luc Besson
Composer: Éric Serra
Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, Rosanna Arquette
Many times I’ve stood on a cliff’s edge and looked out at the ocean before me, feeling its magnetic pull, and wondering what would happen if I were to just let go. That urge to dislocate from the world behind me and enter a place where none of it mattered, to be connected with something else… there’ve been times when it was overpowering, but something always held me back.
The Big Blue was a film I first saw in the early 90s, and every time I’ve seen it since then, it reminded me of those feelings – of wanting to let go. Some may call it the fatalist in me, but like the film, I think it’s sensing there’s more to this world than most of us dare to imagine.
In the film we meet two young friends, Enzo and Jacques who share a passion for free diving (where you dive as deep as you can with a single breath and no equipment other than a rope and a weighted mechanism to take you down). They would challenge each other with competitions, seeing who could retrieve a coin from the bottom of the ocean first. Enzo was the better of the two, and after one of these competitions, they watched Jacques’ father head off on a dive where he later dies after his equipment malfunctions.
The story then moves forward to some years later when Enzo (Jean Reno) and Jacques (Jean-Marc Barr) are all grown up but they haven’t seen each other in some time. Jacques is working in Peru where he meets Johana (Rosanna Arquette), an insurance broker from New York who becomes infatuated with him. After she returns to New York, Enzo then visits him and convinces him to enter the World Diving Championships in Taormina, Sicily. When Johana learns about this, she then persuades her boss to send her there on business, but instead plans on using the time to get further acquainted with Jacques.
With the three of them now in Sicily, going by conventional movie plots what we’d expect to see unfolding is a love triangle between these characters – Besson gives us that, but he adds something else too. Although Johana vies for Jacques’ affections and Enzo does his best to bring out the competitor in him, his heart truly belongs to the ocean and the dolphins.
There’s something otherworldly about Jacques, even when he walks on land he looks like he’s not accustomed to it. When we see him in the water he’s in his element and even Johana’s love and Enzo’s friendship can’t hold him to this world.
The Big Blue takes its time to tell its story; Besson is in no rush for the film to reach its symbolic end, leaving Jean-Marc Barr to shine in a role that brought him so much acclaim. Beautifully shot, it lingers on its oceanic scenes, bringing us a hypnotic view of the world beneath the surface, allowing us to see what draws Jacques to it.
Éric Serra’s music perfectly underscores what we see on screen, helping us to connect with Johana’s despair when she feels Jacques slipping from her, but also understanding where he needs to be.
Besson’s visuals and Serra’s music are a perfect union for this timeless film which is sometimes interpreted as one with a tragic ending. Yet when I watch it, it’s not a feeling of sadness I’m left with, but one of hope. Jacques has returned to the one place that was always his home, free of this world and all the things that kept him anchored here. For me, there’s no sadness in that, only joy and hope that when my time comes I’ll be brave enough to take that dive.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .