"Leviathan" is the type of movie that reveals how limiting the term "documentary" is. You hear that term and you conjure up images of talking heads, of sentimental montages, of 60-minute made-for-television spectacles. "Leviathan" is not a fictional film, yet it couldn’t be further away from the watch-this-because-its-good-for-you sheen given off by most documentaries released today. It skews toward the avant-garde, it skews toward the experimental, yet to place it within such boxes is yet another form of reduction. It’s a movie that resists comparison to almost everything you’ve ever seen before, and are likely to see in the future.
The picture "takes place" on a fishing boat off the coast of New Bedford, traversing the same waters explored by "Moby Dick." The tiny, seemingly indestructible handheld cameras used to film the picture are passed from crew members to the professional fisherman, capturing images that are elusive, wondrous, terrifying, and singular in equal measures. The opening shot travels, inexplicably yet poetically, from clanking chains toward dead fish back toward the ocean and then again toward our crewmates. There’s no narrative, no immediately-apparent thematic interests, nothing that would classify the film as either fiction or a documentary - there’s simply texture, and motion, and imagery; pure cinematic visceral experience. "Leviathan" is one of the rare movies that feels like it was made by someone who’s never seen a movie before.
There are a few extra features included on the Blu-ray release of the picture - a half-hour long short that feels like an extension of one of the movie’s many minutes-long takes, and a theatrical trailer - yet the release benefits from it. "Leviathan" deserves to be watched - nay, experienced - without any preconceptions or expectations. In all my years of watching films I’ve never seen 87 minutes of footage that looks anything like what’s presented here, and I can think of no stronger recommendation.