Matchup of the Day: Ratcatcher vs. Fish Tank
Today we have two films about young folks living in an unhealthy environment – Ratcatcher vs. Fish Tank.
Both films have a scene where the young protagonists push someone into water. In Fish Tank, the 15-year-old Mia accidentally pushes the daughter of her mother’s boyfriend into a lake. In Ratcatcher, preteen James shoves his friend into a canal. The difference between the two is that Mia rescues the girl before she drowns. James runs away, unaware that he has inadvertently caused his friend’s death. The incident in Fish Tank occurs at the end. The drowning occurs at the beginning of Ratcatcher.
In Fish Tank, Mia aspires to be a breakdancer. While she wears sweats, her friends dress in revealing clothing and are inclined toward sexy gyrating. Mia lives with her mother and younger sister in a public housing complex in England. Her mother, who is a party girl, behaves much like an older version of Mia’s friends. So, the 15-year-old has little in the way of a role model or someone she can relate to. The closest she has (symbolically) is an old horse kept chained up by its owners that she repeatedly attempts to set free.
Ratcatcher takes place during a garbage workers strike in 1970’s Scotland. James live in a cramped tenement house with his family. His father, like Mia’s mother, spends much of his time drinking. Trash piles up outside and rats scurry around. James does not fully understand the severity of his role in the death of his friend. He seems numbed to his surroundings. When an older girl he is friends with is mistreated by local boys, he stands by and does nothing. The only thing that enlivens him is when he travels by bus to a housing development outside town. He frolics in the golden field of wheat behind the vacant homes.
Mia’s mother brings home a handsome, charismatic lover, Connor, who catches her fancy. Though he is older, Mia is smitten by his combination of paternal concern and seductive charm. Also, he appears to show genuine interest in her dancing. What she doesn’t know is that he has a wife and family of his own. After Connor woos Mia into an act of intimacy, he abruptly breaks it off with her mother. Mia tracks him down to his house in the suburbs. Angered by his deception, she briefly runs off with his young daughter. Connor later chases Mia down and strikes her in the face.
At the end of Ratcatcher, James throws himself into the same canal that his friend drowned in. He sinks into the murky depths. The final scene of the film shows James and his family walking through the field of wheat as though they are moving into the new homes. Whether James actually dies isn’t made clear. Some reviews suggest that his “death” is metaphorical – that it represents the end of his childhood innocence. The ending of Fish Tank may have a similar meaning, though it’s not as ambiguous. After going to a dance audition which turns out to be for strippers, Mia decides to head off for Wales with one of the boys who owned the horse (which died). There is a hope, at least, that she may have a better life.