Review: ‘The Red Turtle’ slowly studies life’s rhythms

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“The Red Turtle” exists in a realm outside of buzzing phones and text message alerts. It is a quiet, contemplative, poetic study of the patterns of life, told in a dreamlike style by director Michael Dudok de Wit. Some films are a speeding train. This one is a hammock on a Saturday afternoon.

There is no dialogue, the characters don’t have names, and it takes a narrative leap that puts it outside the realm of common sense. The simply yet beautifully animated film follows a man who washes up on a remote island where he’s all alone. His repeated attempts to escape on a raft made from bamboo are thwarted by a large turtle, who seems to want him to stay on the island.

A woman shows up — the particulars of her arrival require the viewer to toss logic out the window — and together they produce a child. That child grows up and follows the same patterns as his father, including a tumble down a crevice from which he must escape. Days go by, storms blow through, and “The Red Turtle” takes it all as it comes.

“The Red Turtle” is a co-production of Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation house behind “Spirited Away” and “My Neighbor Totoro,” and it bares the studio’s stamp of lush storytelling and rich attention to detail. The island itself is full of life; crabs scurry about, baby turtles wade into the sea, birds flap their wings in the skies high above.

Dutch filmmaker de Wit, an Oscar winner for his 2000 short film “Father and Daughter,” adapts well to the Ghibli tempo. He’s in no hurry to tell his story, and “The Red Turtle” lets him stretch out at his own pace. Time washes away, and the film becomes its own island unto itself.


(313) 222-2284


‘The Red Turtle’


Rated PG: for some thematic elements and peril

Running time: 81 minutes