(in biblical use) a sea monster, identified in different passages with the whale and the crocodile (e.g., Job 41, Ps. 74:14), and with the Devil (after Isa. 27:1).
• a very large aquatic creature, esp. a whale: the great leviathans of the deep.
• a thing that is very large or powerful, esp. a ship.
Calling Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel’s Leviathan an observational documentary doesn’t really do it justice. Although it is just that—shot like a fly on the wall, or in this case, like fish on the deck—Leviathan attains an otherworldly feel with its dark, roiling and very physical ambiance. Armed with a number of the durable GoPro action cameras, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel set out on commercial fishing boat from the eastern seaboard and rigged the cameras in a variety of manners: hanging from the bow as the hulking boat heaves up and down in the waves, attached to the fishermen themselves as they haul in the nets, or tossed onto the deck of the ship and sloshed around with all kinds of organic ocean refuse. The result is disorienting, visceral, and completely unique.
Castaing-Taylor, who made Sweetgrass, and Paravel, co-director of Foreign Parts, are both faculty members at the Harvard Sensory Ethnographic Lab, a collaboration between the departments of Anthropology and Visual and Environmental Studies that favors recording small corners of the world without critical judgment. Unorthodox in its production and product, Leviathan is a fascinating result of the Lab’s combination of “aesthetics and ethnography,” as is Libbie D. Cohn and J.P. Sniadecki’s single shot People’s Park and Toronto International Film Fest bound Manakamana by Stephanie Spray and Pancho Velez.
Leviathan is an experience that deserves a theatrical viewing with both sound and image working to envelop the audience in an environment defined both by the work being done and the mighty forces of Mother Nature.