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Fish Tank is a 2009 film written and directed by Andrea Arnold.

It is set in the Council Estate of Mardyke (since demolished) in East London. The popular stereotype of a council estate is one of grim poverty and despair, and so we find one Mia Williams, a 15-year-old girl. Mia is a juvenile delinquent who smokes, drinks, curses like a sailor, and has a habit of resolving conflicts by headbutting people in the nose. The main reason for this, besides the general hopelessness of her surroundings, is her thirtyish mother Joanne, who smokes, drinks, curses like a sailor, and has a habit of hosting wild parties in the apartment with little regard to Mia or Mia's preteen sister Tyler.

The headbutting gets Mia a ticket to reform school—she'll be boarding there, much to the unconcealed delight of her awful mother. Mia has her own dreams of getting out of the neighborhood, dreams of being a hip-hop dancer, something that she practices at endlessly. Another possible way out appears in the form of Conor (Michael Fassbender), Joanne's handsome, charming new boyfriend, who for a little while appears to be a possible father figure to Mia. But Conor is not all that he seems.

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See also Wasp, Andrea Arnold's 2003 quasi-Perspective Flip on this film, a short film with the same setting and similar characters but posed from the perspective of the unfit mother.


Tropes:

  • Adult Fear: Conor is a scumbag who deserves to go to jail for statutory rape. But still, having a stranger take your child away and nearly drown her in the river, that's bad.
  • Comforting Comforter: Subverted. Conor carries a drunk, semi-conscious Mia into her room and puts a blanket over her in this trope's style — but not before taking her pants off, leaving her with only her underwear on beneath the waist. This scene colors every interaction between the two of them from that point forward.
  • Country Matters: Used many, many times.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Mia, a face full of rage, stalks across the open space between apartment buildings to call a girl named Keeley a cunt.
  • Face Framed in Shadow:
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    • The scene where Mia is showing off her dance moves for Conor is lit only by a single street light from the street below, leaving Conor's face half in shadow, contributing to the air of wrongness about the whole scene. Illegal sex follows.
    • This is also how Mia's face is framed in the scene in the nightclub, when she realizes that the dancer job she is auditioning for is to be an exotic dancer. She leaves.
  • Foreshadowing: Once Conor's tattoo that says "Kelly" with a heart is revealed, it becomes obvious he has something to hide. Turns out he's married with a daughter.
  • Jitter Cam: Used in the first scene of the film as Mia marches between the buildings to scream at Keeley. Used again in a far darker context as Mia is in the process of kidnapping Conor's little daughter Keeley.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Both Conor and the folks at the dancing audition ask Mia to let her hair down. Both comment on how much prettier she is with it down. Both moments are very creepy.
  • Mathematician's Answer: Mia's friend Brian is hunting through a junkyard, looking for an engine part for a Volvo.
    Mia: What are you looking for?
    Brian: Looking for a Volvo 940.
    Mia: What's it look like?
    Brian: Like a Volvo 940.
    Mia: All right, clever dick.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Is there a fish tank in this movie? No. Are fish tanks even discussed in this movie? Also no.
  • "Pan Up to the Sky" Ending: Mia, crushed by the traumatic turn of events with Conor, and facing reform school, accepts Brian's invitation to go with him to Wales. We see the truck pulling away, then a shot of a helium balloon floating up above the towers into the sky, symbolizing Mia's escape.
  • Parental Neglect: Joanne holds wild alcohol-soaked parties in the apartment while the kids are home. She has sex at home, without even bothering to close the bedroom door. She's gleeful at the prospect of sending Mia off to board at a referral unit.note 
  • A Party, Also Known as an Orgy: Mercifully the camera cuts away, but Joanne's party was clearly devolving to an orgy, with her children still in the apartment confined to their rooms. Lots of people grinding sensually on each other. Mia is able to filch a bottle of vodka from the party because the man next to it is fingering a woman.
  • Primal Scene: Joanne doesn't even bother to close the door, which is why Mia sees her and Conor having sex.
  • Right Through the Wall: What brings on the Primal Scene, as Joanne is moaning very loudly, much to Mia's displeasure.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: The whole family, and really just about everybody in the council estates.
    Tyler: If I'm a fuckface, you're a cuntface!
  • Undressing the Unconscious: Conor takes Mia's pants off when he's putting her to bed after she passes out drunk. He doesn't do anything else wrong at that moment, but the scene marks him off as a creep and foreshadows what will happen later with the two of them.
  • Use Your Head: When Mia confronts Keely's friend group, she delivers a headbutt to one of the girls in response to that girl insulting her. This resulted in a broken nose for that girl.

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