Rogue 10: Ten Fish Out of Water Tales

Wednesday, 08 August 2012 15:11 Written by  iamrogue
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Rogue 10: Ten Fish Out of Water Tales

$upercapitalist, arriving in theaters, VOD, and iTunes this Friday, August 10th, presents a story of stranger in a strange land, based this time in the world of globalized high finance.  Derek Ting, who also wrote the screenplay, stars as Victor, an almost preternaturally gifted and profitable hedge fund analyst who is right at home in Manhattan. 

When his boss, played by Linus Roache of Batman Begins, sends the young man to Hong Kong, Victor finds himself in an environment that is wholly new to him.  His understanding of the culture, pace, and values in which he's immersed must develop quickly or Victor could be at the center of a financial catastrophe.

The backdrop of international megafinance provides an appropriately fast-paced, glamorous set-up for $upercapitalist, but the fundamentals of the story are broadly familiar.  It's what you often hear described as a fish out of water scenario for obvious reasons, with a capable character rendered altogether less capable by a completely unfamiliar setting And the new movie got us here at IAR thinking about other films that feature figurative fish out of equally figurative water.

For your enjoyment, we've compiled – in no particular order – ten cinematic examples of the type:

Dances With Wolves (1990)/The Last Samurai (2003)/Avatar (2009)

Ah, the wartime fish out of water.  The similarities between these three have been noted time and again for good reason.  All three follow grizzled, broken veterans who head to distant lands where they slowly fall in with a local force utterly alien to them.  Whether it's the Sioux, the Samurai, or the Na'vi, each one serves to open the protagonists' eyes after an initial rejection.  The success of all three movies and the uniformity of their structure is a testament to the durability of fish out of water basics.

It Happened One Night (1934)

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One of only three movies to ever sweep all five major categories at the Academy Awards, this screwball Frank Capra film is from a time before comedies weren't taken seriously at the big awards show.  Claudette Colbert's unbelievably sheltered heiress doesn't just find herself interacting with a surreal world full of hustles and unsavory characters, but is also out of her element with her unintentional squire, a boozy reporter brought to life by Clark Gable.  Of course, the two fall madly in love.

Lost in Translation (2003)

Movie star Bob Harris, played to perfection by movie star Bill Murray, is in Tokyo to endure the profitable humiliation of shilling for Suntory Whiskey.  He's alone and disconnected from the city and country at large in many, seemingly trivial ways (a shower not designed for a man of his height, a strange encounter with an incomprehensible prostitute), but it's all an exaggeration of his own internal disconnect.  Luckily he finds Scarlett Johansson as a similarly afflicted young woman who is on her own after accompanying her oblivious photographer husband to the city.

The Little Mermaid (1989)


She's a half woman/half fish princess of a vast underwater kingdom.  One Faustian bargain later and she's a leggy mute trying to acclimatize herself to life on land among humans and win the love of a handsome man.  This is as close to a literal fish out of water story as you're going to find on the list.  Swish.

Coming to America (1988)

When the prince of an idyllic and fictitious African nation of Zamunda wants to find a bride, where else would go but Queens, New York.  As Prince Akeem, Eddie Murphy piles on the aristocratic grace and intellect, while Arsenio Hall is all affronted entitlement as his sidekick Semmi.  Both highlight the gulf between the duo and their spirited, squalid surroundings.

Witness (1985)

Unless you're Amish, you're not really going to fit in to Amish country right away.  Especially if you're a pretty no-nonsense big city detective protecting a little Amish boy, the only witness to a murder by corrupt cops.  If the kid's mom also happens to be an improbably gorgeous widow, that's not going to make things any easier, as Harrison Ford's John Book finds out through many a longing look with Kelly McGillis.

Son in Law (1993)/In the Army Now (1994)/Jury Duty (1995)/Bio-Dome (1996)

At the peak of his popularity, Pauly Shore starred as a series of characters defined almost solely by their Pauly Shore-ness.  These eccentric individuals were then placed in an incongruous, unfamiliar setting.  Son in Law, for example, has him as Crawl, a merry partier at a Southern California college who ends up in rural America, where the staid locals are shocked by the extent of his Shore-ittude.  In the Army Now subs in the military, Jury Duty puts him on the jury in a high-profile murder case, and Bio-Dome drops him into a dio-dome.

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)


Ah, another entry from Frank Capra.  This time, it's James Stewart as Jefferson Smith, and it's not a coincidence that this boyishly idealistic guy devotes all his efforts to the Boy Rangers in order to provide better lives for otherwise rudderless young lads all over his native state.  When he's suddenly serving as a United States Senator, Smith is transparently dumbstruck as he interacts with the jaded politico crowd in Washington D.C., from corrupt politicians to muckraking journalists.  Speaking of journalists, Smith's outsider status is nowhere more apparent than the early montage where he punches the shit out of many an unscrupulous reporter.

Modern Times (1934)


The unnamed hero of Charlie Chaplin's silent classic starts off as an assembly-line employee driven to distraction by the mindless monotony of his job, and that's just the first indication that he doesn't exactly fit into the titular times.  The rest of the movie, in which he loses job after job and manages to end up in jail every single time, confirms it.

Time After Time (1979)

We deliberately eschewed time travel movies here, but Time After Time is so succinctly and completely a fish out of water story that we couldn't resist.  Malcolm McDowell plays The Time Machine author H.G. Wells, who built himself a time machine of his own, only to have Jack the Ripper (David Warner) using it to escape into the future.  Wells pursues him to San Francisco in the 1970's.  It's not just that Wells is shocked that french fries are pommes frites, but more that he's such a naive man – He envisioned the future as a utopia free from injustice and man's violent impulses – struggling to reconcile his idealized conception of the future with the strange, often hostile, place he navigates.

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