There are not too many films about sport fishing. A River Runs Through It springs to mind. But how about a romantic comedy focused on fishing in a desert? Never done. But that is exactly what this film is. Ridiculous, impossible, “fundamentally unfeasible,” but unlikely as it seems, Salmon Fishing is fresh and cute.
The film revolves around the desire of Sheik Muhammed (Amr Waked) to bring his passion for salmon fishing to his native land of Yemen. In so doing, he hopes to bring the peace of fishing to the region and hires a consulting firm to aid him. Harriet (Emily Blunt, The Young Victoria), a consultant, is assigned to bring his vision to fruition. Can it be done? To answer this she turns to the Ministry of Fisheries and fish expert Dr. Alfred Jones (Ewan McGregor, Beginners). He wants nothing to do with it, declaring it “fundamentally unfeasible”.
Which is where it would land, another dead fish on the shores of preposterous ideas, if it weren’t for the need for some positive PR from the middle East. When the PM’s press secretary Patricia Maxwell (Kristin Scott Thomas, The English Patient) gets wind of this scheme she puts pressure on the Ministry to make it happen, and Jones finds himself blackmailed into working with Harriet on the project.
At first, Jones acts like he believes it impossible, asking for outlandish things to transport the millions of freshwater fish from England to Yemen. But after he meets the Sheikh and as time progresses, the project gets in his blood. And he begins to believe in the impossible.
One scene stands out. Jones is going to meet Harriet, who has barricaded herself in her apartment after receiving bad news. Grief-stricken, she has pulled back from the project. But as Jones walks the sidewalk, he is literally swimming upstream against the mass of humanity that is all walking in the other direction. This metaphorically depicts the project and relates it to the freshwater fish who swim upstream to spawn.
Like some of his earlier work (Chocolat, The Cider House Rules, An Unfinished Life), Swedish director Hallström brings a slow and relaxed pacing to the film. Indeed, it is like fishing itself. And he blends the comedy with the romance very well. Through most of the film, we don’t know if Jones and Harriet will end up together. Harriet is in a relationship with a soldier sent to Afghanistan, while Jones is locked into a lifeless marriage that is a stagnant pool. Despite these relational ties, there is a magnetism between them. In part this is due to the easy chemistry between the two leads that makes us root for them as much as for the salmon. Furthermore, Scott Thomas is terrific in a wonderfully self-centered role, delivering much of the humor.
Two themes emerge plainly. The first is faith. The Sheik himself brings this up in discussion with Jones. He declares that fishing requires faith, just as religion does. For a man of science, this is anathema. But the film explores this assertion. It takes faith to stand in a river and cast a fly. There is no guarantee that there are fish in the water, nor that they will see the fly, or take to the snare. But men do it regardless, believing that they will catch a fish.
Faith is like this. It is trust in the unseen. It is not strictly the realm of the religious. Take for example the act of flying, something most of us have done at one point or another. We board a long metallic cylinder that is heavier than air and by all intents and purposes should not be able to ascend. Yet, we place our faith in the laws of physics and mechanics that the thrust of the engines will overcome the law of gravity. Moreover, we place our faith in two men we have never seen or met, believing that the pilots have the expertise to control the plane.
Faith requires an object, though, whether this is a pilot, a plane, or a divine physician. A Roman centurion, certainly no religious zealot, wanted his sick servant to be healed. He believed Jesus could heal him and simply asked for a miracle (Matt. 8:8-9). Hearing this request and implicit faith, Jesus commented, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith” (Matt. 8:10).
Unlike the centurion, many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by our circumstances, so much so that we forget where to place our faith. Even the disciples, who had lived with Jesus and seen him work miracles, had this problem. When they found themselves in the midst of a storm, panicked, only to be rebuked by Jesus: “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matt. 8:26). Faith can be fickle and often needs fostering. Its strength is dependent on its object, its foundation.
The writer of Hebrews put it this way: “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb. 11:1) It is belief in the apparently unbelievable. But God is the god of the impossible. Faith in God, through Jesus, should be rock-solid. Through eyes of faith, we look to God and accept that “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” (Lk. 18:27)
A biblical example from early in Jesus’ ministry comes to mind. After fishing all night, Simon Peter and his colleagues had pulled in no fish. Their work was for nothing. But Jesus said to him, “ ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” (Lk. 5:4-6) Whether it is creating fishing possibilities in the desert or catching fish when none were to be found, faith is fundamental.
Which brings us to the second and obvious theme to engage with, namely fishing. Fishing is a key metaphor in the Bible. When Jesus calls his first disciples he chooses plain old fishermen: “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19) Fishing for men, bringing them into the new kingdom that Jesus introduces, requires the same patience and faith as fishing for salmon. It takes more than simple human effort. We cannot convert a person on our own. It requires the work of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 3:6). And the Spirit works as he chooses (Jn. 3:8). Our work is to believe in the invisible God and labor in faith.
Whether you like fishing or not, go out and hook this DVD and have the faith to believe in the impossible.
Copyright ©2013, Martin Baggs
Martin works as a manager in the high tech industry. He leads a monthly film review group at Mosaic Church in Portland, Oregon. He writes film responses from a biblical perspective on his blog: www.mosaicmovieconnectgroup.blogspot.com