Living on an isolated tropical island, Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) is a fishing boat captain who lives a peaceful life on Plymouth Island, an isolated island in the Carribbean. However, his world is soon shattered when his ex-wife Karen (Anne Hathaway) tracks him down and, desperate for help, begs Baker to rescue her and their young son from her abusive husband, Frank (Jason Clarke). Offering Dill $10M to feed her husband to the sharks in the open water, Karen pleads with him to take on the job. Thrust back into a life that he wanted to forget, Baker now finds himself struggling to choose between right and wrong.
Although the film is fairly uneven—not to mention the wildest twist you can imagine—there are enough things to like about Serenity for those who are game. Directed by Steven Knight (Peaky Blinders, Eastern Promises), Serenity is a neo-noir film laced with sci-fi sensibilities. (No spoilers.) Set on the isolated island in the Caribbean, Knight drops the audience into a steamy world of sex and betrayal. Using bleached colours and shadowy frames, the world is lush in vegetation yet colours bleed together, resulting in a bleak and lifeless atmosphere. Working together for the first time since Intersteller, McConaughey and Hathaway work well with one another, even at times when the material is lacking.
As with many examples of noir, one of the most interesting aspects of the film is its conflicted moral compass. Lost in his own pain and alone, Dill lives in poverty in a repurposed metal shack. His boat is owned by the bank and he can barely pay his first mate. He spends his days chasing his own ‘white whale’, a mysterious giant tuna that constantly escapes him. Named ‘Justice’, the tune is symbolic of the very justice that seems to elude him as he moves from day to day looking for hope to no avail. Though the island is beautiful, what begins as an Edenic paradise soon reveals itself to be anything but. (Case and point: The local tavern bar even changed its name from the ‘Hope and Anchor’ to the ‘Rope and Anchor’, citing that there isn’t much hope on the island.)
Still, in the midst of this dry moral time, Dill refuses to bend to Karen’s request. Despite the lawlessness of the area, Dill believes that there is something fundamentally wrong with the idea of killing anyone, no matter how hateful her husband may be. To him , there remains a dichotomy to life – light and dark, right and wrong – that continues to stand, even in the midst of a world of compromise. Inspired by the chance to be a father to his son, Dill fights hard against the pressures of the culture, even asking his first mate to ‘keep him from temptation’.
Even so, there is a sense of inevitability in Serenity that evil is constantly creeping in the background, waiting to strike. Can a man continue to try to be the man he wants to be, even when there is constant pressure to fall? Or does succumbing to our base impulses bring the justice that we’re looking for? These are ambitious questions for a film like Serenity and, without spoiling anything, the film’s twist reveals that this is also an ambitious film (perhaps tooambitious in that regard). Still, for those who are willing to take the ride and interested in the questions, Serenityis potentially intriguing enough to take the trip, despite its flaws.
Serenity is in theatres now.