by CHARLES AARON In the 2004 indie film Open Water, a young couple, Susan and Daniel, take a vacation to escape the stress of their lives and jobs. They go to a tropical location for scuba diving. Due to a mistake by the employees of the charter boat that has taken them out, Daniel and Susan end up left in the ocean when the boat returns to dock. The rest of the movie details their attempts to draw attention to themselves by passing craft, and their conversations while they wait to see if anyone rescues them.
The directors of the film, Chris Kentis and Laura Lau use a number of techniques to enable the audience to identify with Susan and Daniel while they helplessly float in the water. At several points during their ordeal, the camera shows the audience the horizon, the sky, the surface of the water and the menacing sharks from the couple’s line of sight. The audience sees what they see. Near midnight, clouds and a storm appear. During the storm the couple cannot see because the clouds block the moon and stars. For several minutes in the movie the audience sees a black screen, the same darkness as the couple. The audience can see only when lightning flashes, which provides the only light for the couple.
The film draws the audience into the emotional state of the couple by showing Susan crying and Daniel shouting loudly about their predicament. His shouts seem directed at life, fate, bad luck. When a shark bites Daniel’s leg, the jerky movement of the camera recreates the sense of panic they both feel. His cries of agony at the injury signal the viewers about his psychological state.
The film makes good use of psychological point of view, but it contains a great irony on the informational plane as well. Daniel and Susan have taken the vacation to escape stress, but now find themselves in a situation they cannot escape. Daniel expresses the longing to return to their hectic lives.
Using these techniques to enable the audience to identify with Daniel and Susan persuades the audience to buy into the message of the film. The film explores the way life confines and limits persons, first by job stress, then by the mistakes of others that leave us trapped. Daniel and Susan make a life for themselves in the short time they have. They play games together, argue as any couple would, and share a meal of the only food they have on them. Susan tells Daniel that she loves him, counteracting her decision from the night before to decline his offer of sex. Daniel recites the Lord’ Prayer, reconnecting with God in his last hours. After Daniel dies, Susan removes her tank and plunges beneath the water, accepting her fate to die from shark bites.
The movie communicates the message that we create a life for ourselves within the confines that fate and forces beyond our control place us. At one point, Susan suggests swimming toward a boat in the distance. Daniel explains to her that the ocean currents will decide for them where they go, no matter how strenuously they swim. The ocean currents represent the forces in life we cannot control. Within the confines of the forces we cannot control, we live our lives and make our choices. That the audience merges with the trapped couple enables the audience to reflect on that message.