Sep 7, 2007

Deep Water

A fascinating BBC documentary now showing at the Angelika, Deep Water chronicles a race to circumnavigate the globe singlehandedly on a sailboat and the conditions that led one of the contestants to a tragic end. The movie is not particularly suspenseful or gripping, but it provides a touching, troubling insight into the nature of failure. It's a film that investigates failure, which is sort of a breath of fresh air in a country where we seem to be incapable of admitting it.
Deep Water is less an adventure documentary than a meditation on the psychology and the human nature of failure. As usual, hindsight is always 20/20. As is the case with the other documentary about failure not showing at the multiplex near you, No End In Sight, about our debacle in Iraq, Deep Water calmly explains the accumulation of bad decisions, hubris, unrealistic optimism and undue pressure from sinister outside forces that hounded Donald Crowhurst, a guy who was way out of his league in even signing up for such a grueling race.
It also explores what it is for the mind to be alone at sea for months, most of it with fascinating footage of the men at sea.
They spent months and months of seeing only water; sometimes calm and infinite, sometimes furious and life-threatening. As a counterpart to the tragic figure in the film, the filmmakers present not the winner of the race, who doesn't seem to interest them in the least (a creative decision that's to be commended), but of another competitor, Bernard Moitissier, a Frenchman, who found in his solitude a transcendent, mystical experience. Before the race he said that any man who entered that contest wishing for fame and fortune was going to come to grief. Of course, he was totally right.
It is a terribly sad story and one of the most interesting visual aspects of it is to look at the difference between the footage of Mr. Moitissier, who turned the camera towards the sea, and showed splendid vistas, of glorious sunsets and also stormy waters; and the very crummy footage of Mr. Crowhurst, who was so overwhelmed and underprepared that he just turned inwards, towards madness.
It is a film that gives one much pause, a haunting meditation on character, hubris, the fragility or endurance of the human psyche, why we take risks, why men are always looking for crazy challenges, why some fail and others triumph.
It is about being human.

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