THE RED TURTLE (La tortue rouge) [2016]


Directed by Michael Dudok de Wit

Written by Michael Dudok de Wit (story), Pascale Ferran (screenplay)

The Red Turtle is a dialogue free, experimental film whose quality obviously banks heavily on its presentation; the animation and especially the soundtrack and sound effects work. As soon as the film starts, it is immediately apparent that all these boxes are successfully ticked as we are drawn deep into the dialogue-free experience that this film offers.

A collaboration between Studio Ghibli and Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit, the story is at the same time rooted in reality while still retaining the dream-like aesthetic of so many of Ghibli’s great films. As soon as the film starts we are presented with some incredible hand-drawn animation, as well as some excellent sound design as we hear clearly heavy waves slapping together, throwing around a nameless man and what is left of his boat. It is an arresting introduction, and from then on, even without words, it is hard to look away.

The man finds himself on a deserted island, isolated from humanity. His only company are the crabs that inhabit the island. Multiple times the man tries to escape by building a raft, but his creation is mysteriously thumped from beneath and broken. On his third attempt, with this time with a stronger raft, he meets the perpetrator – a red turtle who is intent on keeping this man stranded on the island.


The man is eventually forced to learn to be content with what he has. That is, he isn’t dead. He is stranded, but he is still breathing despite the storm than landed him on the island. This simple story is essentially all there is, but it is executed so well, and in such a unique but emotional style, that it is hard not to become fully involved in the film. When the Red Turtle surfaces on the island’s beach, one action by the man carries incredible emotional weight and really kicks the film into gear.

The lack of dialogue is replaced by dialogue continuously running through my head, creating an incredibly unique experience. The creativity on display, the distinct personality this film possesses, is partially due to the multicultural background of the film, having ties to many countries in Europe as well as Japan.


It is perhaps slow at times, and without any dialogue I assume this will stump some viewers. But the way the film is able to evoke emotion without any dialogue is really quite the achievement. Pair this with some simply astounding animation, exceedingly effective sound-work and an in-obtrusive yet memorable soundtrack, and I find myself writing about yet another film that I can’t find a flaw with.

The story is certainly filled with symbolism and I imagine that may frustrate some viewers, but it isn’t too deep. The basic conclusion I came to was that this man has to learn to be content with being alive; he must learn to become at peace with nature, as it is the only company he has. I really cannot stop thinking about this film; no surprise then that it won the Un Certain Regard – Special Jury Prize at Cannes this year.


It would be rude to reveal too much more about the story within the film, but it presents many questions worth pondering. What does the turtle signify? 5.5 beer - no beer topThat they live about as long as humans (approximately 80 years on average) surely has something to do with it, though I’d love to see the film again to analyse it again. The film offers much food for thought, if one is patient and is willing to explore the world the film creates. This is most certainly an anti-ADD film; I suspect even some ardent fans of Studio Ghibli may be less than excited about The Red Turtle. I however could not have enjoyed it more, it is certainly a film that lingers in the mind.

Half a beer short of a sixer


16 Comments on “THE RED TURTLE (La tortue rouge) [2016]

  1. Nice review Jordan. Admittedly I’m not the biggest Studio Ghibli aficionado; I’m probably one of the few who didn’t care too much for Spirited Away. But this sounds excellent and I enjoyed the similarly themed All is Lost a couple of years ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, All is Lost came to my mind not long into this film. There are definetely similarities, but this film manages to evoke so much emotion from just sounds and pictures… it is really incredible. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Ghibli either, but man, this one really hits hard

      Liked by 1 person

  2. “… dialogue free, experimental film” You’ve sold me on this one Jordan! I’m curious if they can tell a compelling story just from visuals alone. I know that Terrence Malick sort of tried to do that w/ his *visual poetry* Knight Of Cups, but unfortunately I can’t say it worked on that one as it was extremely tedious!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is nothing like Knight of Cups. It manages to draw real emotion, while also painting a fascinating story. All of this of course with no dialogue, animated by Studio Ghibli.

      It is impossible to go wrong!! Keep an eye out 🙂


      • Oh good to hear! So I take it you have seen Knight Of Cups, which wasn’t emotional at all. Well I was emotionally angry that I wasted my 2 hours on it, ahah. Yes I’ll be on the lookout for it. Btw, I just posted the lineup for TCFF, the film fest in my town, check out if there’s any film that interest you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I liked KOC, but for very different reasons. Yes, keep an eye out for this, I have no idea why it is playing in Australia seemingly before the UK or the US.

        Liked by 1 person

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  4. Is a lovely, simple, universal tale about loss and longing. It won a special jury prize at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, where it played in the Un Certain Regard sidebar, and is nominated for an Academy Award in the animated feature film category.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well deserved. A beautiful movie that marries Eastern and European culture incredibly; there is not another film like this. At all.


  5. Pingback: I LOST MY BODY (J’ai perdu mon corps) [2019] | 500 CRAPPY WORDS A DAY

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