“The Big Blue” Film Review

By Anya Geiling

The ocean is a beautiful place, filled with mysteries more intriguing than deep space. Many people do not realize the tremendous amount of life, tragedy, and stunning works of the ocean. The Big Blue visits this world, harmonizing it with gorgeous cinematography. Delving deeper into this wonderful film introduces a fascinating story of friendship, struggle, and deep sea diving.

Released in 1988, The Big Blue was directed by Luc Besson and starred actors Jean-Marc Barr, Jean Reno, and Rosanna Arquette. Besson is behind many other great works, such as La Femme Nikita (1990), Léon: The Professional (1994), Taken (2008), and Valerian (2017). It’s a movie about the rivalry between two close friends, Enzo (Reno) and Jacques (Barr). It explores their lives after becoming world renowned deep-sea free divers. Their experiences and spiritual morals take hold of their entire lives, right up to their deaths. 

Jean-Marc Barr and Rosanna Arquette.

The movie first takes place by the Mediterranean Sea, where Enzo and Jacques were friends who went diving in their free time. Later in the film, when Jacques grows older, his dream of diving takes hold and fosters the beginning of his wonderful, but lonely life. He would travel to many places, including the Peruvian Andes, where he was the human research subject because he had dolphin-like responses to cold water immersion. In Peru Jacques meets Johana (Arquette), an insurance broker who has to visit his station for work purposes. When she finds out Jacques is diving at the World Diving Championships in Sicily, she persuades her job that she needs her presence there, in order to see him once more. Throughout the film, Jacques and Johana fall in love. 

During the film we see shots located in parts of the French Antibes, some Greek islands, Peru, and the town of Taormina, Sicily. These shots are spectacular and bring even more ambiance to the movie. Besson is known for his imaginative visual techniques and astounding film sequences. 

The film was actually adapted from a real life story. Jacques Mayol and Enzo Maiorca (renamed Enzo Molinari in the film) were real free divers from France and Italy. Jacques Mayol, born on April 1st, 1927, held many world records including descending at the age of 56 to 344 feet below the surface. Enzo Maiorca, born on June 21st, 1931, set his final record at the age of 57, descending 331 feet. 

From left: Jacques Mayol, and the actor who played him, Jean-Marc Barr.

The real Jacques Mayol was also one of the screenwriters for The Big Blue. In the film, his character has a deep fascination not only with the ocean, but also the creatures that live within. Dolphins were a large part of the movie; in real life Mayol developed a deep passion for dolphins in 1955 when he started working as a commercial diver in an aquarium in Miami. There was a female dolphin named Clown, and Mayol forged a close bond with her. He even learned how to hold his breath longer and how to swim more efficiently underwater. 

The ending of the movie, however, was fictionalized for the big screen. In the original version of the movie, Jacques goes deep into the ocean with his dolphin friend, and doesn’t make it back to the surface in time. In the American version, a happier sequence was added where Jacques comes back to the surface with the dolphin. In real life, Jacques committed suicide as a result of severe depression. He died in 2001 at 74 years old. Enzo Maiorca lived to be 85 years old, and passed away when he fatally and tragically collided with another scuba diver in 2016. 

Luc Besson is one of the most influential directors of our time. He’s a great writer-director for films with incredible cinematography. This film is one of my favorites, and I think everyone should definitely take the time to watch it!