The 2019 film Serenity is a thriller about a rugged fisherman who unexpectedly receives a visit from his distraught ex-wife, who begs for his help in escaping the cruel abuse of her ruthless husband. We learn that Baker Dill (Matthew McConaughey) has been working as a fisherman on the island of Plymouth for what seems like years, but the appearance of his ex-wife Karen Zariakas (Anne Hathaway) causes fragments of his mysterious past to suddenly resurface. Although at first intriguing, the story that unfolds will leave audiences scratching their heads and wondering what they just watched.
Written and directed by Steven Knight (Locke), Serenity features beautiful aerial shots of the ocean, complete with lurking sharks and an impossibly-massive, ever-evasive tuna fish named “Justice.” The film successfully captures the unique sights, smells, and sounds of Plymouth Island as seen through the eyes of Baker Dill. And yet, in being transported to Plymouth, audiences may begin to question where exactly they are and why everyone seems to be acting somewhat strange. The answers that are revealed at the conclusion of the story, however, are far from satisfying.
Indeed, a Serenity instruction manual may come in handy just to understand what is happening as the plot unfolds – or rather, as it unravels. As Knight bravely experiments with blending past, present, reality, and fantasy, just keeping up with the story becomes tiresome. Despite this central confusion, there is no doubt that Matthew McConaughey is perfectly cast as the rugged fisherman who, although a little rough around the edges, is enlightened and inspired to act by a greater power. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Anne Hathaway, whose scenes come across as forced and melodramatic. Her strained acting is only made worse by cringe-worthy dialogue that is overwhelmingly on-the-nose. For instance, during an emotionally-charged scene between Dill and Zariakas in which they become intimate aboard Dill’s boat during a thunderstorm, Zariakas unnecessarily observes: “We are both damaged, but in different ways…” This is the kind of interaction that destroys an opportunity for audiences to appreciate cinematic subtlety and draw conclusions on their own.
The ending of this film is perhaps the most baffling – a technological twist that is so bizarre, it’s nearly laughable. And although it is clear that the conclusion of Serenity aims to send a broader message to its audience, what exactly that core message is remains unclear. Is it about escaping reality? Making your own rules? Coping with the past? Perhaps only Baker Dill will ever really know the true answer. Ironically enough, the finale of Serenity brings very little peace to confused audiences – apart from the relief that their strange and exhausting journey on Plymouth Island has finally come to an end.
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