Off the New Bedford coast, bobbing on the ink-black Atlantic, a roaring vessel harvests nets full of fish from the great deep. On deck scramble an exhausted crew of colourful slicker-wearing fisherman, some of the last physical labourers in a post-industrial society. Alongside the boat, seagulls fly, diving into the water for chum.
These are the basic elements of Leviathan, the newest collaborative work from anthropologists, artists, and filmmakers Lucien Castaing-Taylor (Sweetgrass) and Véréna Paravel (Locarno 2010 multiple-prizewinning Foreign Parts). By collaborative, I also mean in participation with the sailors, the fish, and the birds, who all appear alongside one another in the credits – in a Gothic font, for Leviathan is an abstract, anarchic horror film.
The title is, of course, Biblical, referring to a great fish that eventually came to symbolize evil in the Christian Era. This Leviathan is the locale for slaughter, for blood, for heavy metal mechanical mayhem; it’s documentary filmmaking by way of Baroque painting and slasher cinema.
The title also brings to mind Hobbes, whose Leviathan was the State; he also philosophized that all ideas are derived from sensory experience. Hailing from the Sensory Ethnography Lab at Harvard University, the filmmakers have made the ne plus ultra of immersive documentaries.
In this stunning and unparalleled work, using small digital cameras, they have discovered new forms of cinema. There has not yet been a film quite like Leviathan: see and feel it for yourself.Mark Peranson