The Deep


The Deep

Review by Zoë Robert.

djupidThe Deep (Djúpið), the latest movie release by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, recounts the 1984 sinking of a fishing trawler in the forbidding seas off the Westman Islands, south of Iceland, and the remarkable survival of one of its crew members.

That survivor was Guðlaugur Friðþórsson and his ability to survive—against all odds—the freezing temperatures and rough seas that winter night made him not only a national hero but the subject of international scientific interest.

The film paints a picture of life in the fishing village of Vestmannaeyjarbær; husbands and sons coming and going, their families anxious for their return after long days and nights spent out at sea. In fishing villages around the country, many people know someone who has lost a friend or family member to the turbulent seas off Iceland.

In a recent interview with The Reykjavík Grapevine, Baltasar described the events as a “story of a nation” but that the film is also a reflection of the economic instability the country has gone through.

“Where do we come from? What is the fabric we are made of? ... American heroes wear capes, Icelandic heroes wear sea gear. That is why this is such a powerful story; the narrative drive stands so close the Sagas. Someone performs an inexplicable human feat, does not really want to talk about it and downplays the whole thing. This is so close to the national character and I believe it is what makes the story fascinating. It comes from within us. This is really a story of a nation,” Baltasar said.

Three of the five crewmembers escaped the sinking vessel but only Guðlaugur managed to swim the five to six kilometers to shore, and after having spent the same number of hours in 5ºC (41°F) seas, climbed up the rocky cliffs and made his way, barefoot over snow-covered lava, into town.

The much-anticipated film has been credited with treating the subject matter with humbleness and for not over-dramatizing the events.

I must admit that I went into the cinema having completely forgotten what the film was about; something I rarely do. The three men who manage to escape the sinking trawler, cling to the side of the boat until it is swallowed into the depths of the ocean.

One of the three men dies shortly after leaving Guðlaugur (portrayed by the mighty Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) alone with the captain. They continue talking, trying to keep each other’s spirits up, as they swim.

Most people are said to be able to survive for around 20 minutes in such conditions and sure enough, Guðlaugur is soon the sole survivor.

The men seem to be clinging to the boat for so long, alone in the dark. For audiences who are not familiar with the story, this part may drag on a little too long, unsure of what will happen next.

Once I made the connection to the real life story, though, I appreciated this part as much as the rest for depicting the solitude, and the loss of sense of time; those hours must have felt like days.

The Deep beat Borgríki (City State), Frost, Hetjur Valhallar – Þór (Legends of Valhalla: Thor) and Svartur á leik (Black’s Game) to represent Iceland at next year’s Academy Awards.

Guðlaugur, who was just 22 years old when the accident occurred, was hailed a hero at the time. Still today, his story and that of his fellow crewmembers continues to inspire. Selected screenings of The Deep in Iceland are currently being shown with English subtitles, including at Bíó Paradís.


Zoë Robert – [email protected]

A version of this review was published as a Daily Life column on September 26.

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