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Faith Reels: ‘A Bigger Splash’ … underwater or coming up for air?

Faith Reels: ‘A Bigger Splash’ … underwater or coming up for air?

by Bonnie Anderson and Dan Webster


There’s something to be said for star power. A movie with Ralph Fiennes and Tilda Swinton will likely draw a crowd. In the case of ‘A Bigger Splash’ many moviegoers may be disappointed.


This is a story about addiction to any number of substances or actions. It is a film about unusual friendship, egotism, sexual dynamics, self-focus, eccentricity, remorse, abuse of power and the cult of celebrity. If you’re thinking sex, drugs and rock & roll you’re heading in the right direction.


A remote island in Italy is the setting for this Luca Guadagnino film that will keep viewers watching, perhaps with a sense of the sheer audacity at the opulent and unbound lifestyle that kept us thinking, “really”?

A famous rock star, Marianne (Tilda Swinton) is recovering from surgery that has left her in a state that allows her only to whisper as she heals. She and her filmmaker boyfriend Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) are interrupted from their “idyllic” lifestyle by an unexpected visit from Marianne’s former producer and lover Harry (Ralph Fiennes). Harry and Paul are also friends. Harry has his long-lost daughter in tow (Dakota Johnson) and with those four characters you have the setting for a simmering mix of emotions just ready to boil over. Harry “doesn’t believe in limits.” As the film plays out, it appears that the others don’t believe in limits either. Although in most of Fiennes’ scenes he displays tiresome exuberance, there is one remarkable scene where he turns that exuberance into a dance that artfully expresses the spirit of an uninhibited, aging hippie-type. He brilliantly conveys the sense of going for “all-or-nothing” just one more time.

As we get caught up in the crazy world of rock-and-roll we find ourselves, with them, in an alternate universe. Life is going on all around them. A religious festival in the nearby village offers the characters a chance to live into excess. As they go about their torrid memories and tortured present they remotely encounter Tunisian war refugees who seek sanctuary on this Italian island. The plight of the refugees goes unnoticed by Marianne and Harry. Making ricotta cheese holds more interest for them. These are not very likeable people.


In a short conversation between Paul and Harry an interchange about obscurity ensues. Harry claims that Paul (his lifestyle and self) is obscure. Paul notes that “everyone is obscure.” For us, Harry sums up the message of the film: “Obscurity, that’s the point. We see it [in each other] and we love each other anyway.”


We are reminded that we have to watch and listen carefully to what is going on around us. Otherwise, like many instances we saw in this film, we may miss an opportunity for transformation.


Bonnie Anderson is a very active lay leader in her parish, diocese and in the wider Episcopal Church. She is an experienced community organizer and lives in suburban Detroit. Dan Webster is an Episcopal priest in Baltimore, Maryland and a former broadcast news executive. But don’t expect only east coast urban perspectives here. As it turns out, they both grew up in Southern California.  They blog about films and faith at Faith Reels


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