“Leviathan”: The Documentary that Smells Like Fish

Good documentaries are more not just about showing things. They are not just about giving you some tasteless impression of places and people.  You usually feel a little uncomfortable while watching them, as if you should almost not be there.

That is exactly the feeling of this incredible documentary called “Leviathan”, that seriously smells like fish.

Following a crew of fishermen on a ship along the coasts of New England, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Venera Paravel, from the Visual Art and anthropology department of Harvard, will throw salted water into your eyes in “Leviathan”. Made with GoPros attached to poles dived in cold dark the water, then flung in a bucket of still breathing sticky fishes, it gives a breathtaking impression of horror and intimacy.

Maybe Lucien and Venera succeeded here to tell the unspeakable, because the sounds and images of the movie will make you feel things words would have barely described. That is what the film co-director Lucien Castaing-Taylor explains:

“I guess if we could describe Leviathan in words we wouldn’t have made it. Certain people make films – especially documentaries – that can be summarised in words, but usually they’re the kind of films that don’t take advantage of what cinema can offer. In our case we try to make films that are really experiential, sensorily immersive, and intense, films that in a sense take us back to our infancy before we became linguistic creatures.”


Bringing us back to early stages of our way to perceive the world around us, a documentary like “Leviathan” awake the senses. It brings attention to the importance of not forgetting to “feel” the world, not just reducing it in a language, a thought, a rationality. Castaing-Taylor says cinema is something we can use to reach out to this other self that has always been there, but who is barely accessible in the adult life.

“Cinema’s power is that it can exceed what one can do with language. Or precede it in a way. Because it connects to that part of us that existed before we developed linguistic abilities.”

Read the full interview of the documentary directors on the Geographical Magazine