Charles Crichton’s ‘A Fish Called Wanda’ (1988)

13Sep05

A Fish Called Wanda is probably one of my favorite films of all time. And I think that this movie offers an interesting reading.

The title of the film reveals nothing about the plot and instead focuses the viewer’s attention on an angelfish, a creature that is very beautiful and very fragile. This title causes the viewer to suspect that the fish will play an important part in the plot; however, the fish has a relatively minor role. I spent a good five minutes trying to reason the connection between Wanda and the fish called Wanda. But I think that the fish is merely an aquatic representation of Wanda.

Wanda’s sexuality is probably her greatest asset. Though Wanda is smart, she uses her body to control the men around her. The first scene illustrates a trend in her relationships with Otto and George. When Wanda tries to shush Otto from belittling Ken’s fish, Otto grabs her breast in an act of control. When George arrives at the apartment, she dutifully kisses him hello and George grabs her ass to show his control or ownership of her to Ken and Otto. Wanda’s allowing them access to her body has made them blind to the fact that she is manipulating both of them. Her relationship with Ken is slightly different. While Crichton included a scene in which Wanda uses her sexuality to control Ken and get information from him, her actions also have something of a maternal element. Wanda kisses Ken to help him, to stop him from stuttering, and the scene concludes with Wanda kissing Ken on the forehead and resting his head against her breast.

Language and mastery of language seem to be key factors in Wanda’s relationships. As several scenes reveal, Wanda finds language, particularly Italian and later Russian, arousing. Ken has a terrible stutter and cannot master one language let alone multiple languages, so he never had a chance at a romantic relationship with Wanda, which might explain her more maternal relationship with him. George, while not unintelligent, shows no evidence of knowledge of another language. He tries to impress Wanda by quoting Oscar Wilde, though I cannot find evidence that the quotation is actually an Oscar Wilde quotation. In the scene in which Wanda reveals her treachery, George disintegrates into screaming profanity; obviously, he could not be the man whom Wanda stays with. Otto is an idiot and Wanda recognizes his mistakes. He also speaks very crudely and is, as Archie notes, a “true vulgarian.” But Otto can pretend to speak Italian, which holds Wanda’s interest. However, Otto doesn’t actually speak Italian, only regurgitates menu selections and names of Italian dictators. He might entertain Wanda temporarily but not ultimately keep her interest.

Archie, however, has a superior grasp of language. He commiserates that Englishmen fear saying the wrong thing — he understands the delicacies of speech. Archie also can actually speak Italian, unlike Otto, as well as Russian. But despite his mastery of language, Archie does not use it to control Wanda as Otto does. When Otto feels jealous at Wanda’s comment that Archie is “kind of cute in a pompous sort of way,” he says that “Otto does not approve” and then begins “speaking Italian” to remind her of his sexual power over her. When Archie and Wanda attempt to have an affair, she asks him if he can speak Italian, which he does, but instead of continuing to use the Italian to control her, Archie begins to speak Russian instead, which Wanda finds more arousing. Later in the film, Wanda asks Archie to speak Russian and he refuses. He does not speak the language until they have come to an understanding and to equal footing, after he becomes involved in stealing the diamonds and fleeing the country.

Back to the fish. The angelfish symbolizes Wanda’s false image as a fragile thing, useful only for her beauty. Otto destroying the fish represents Wanda shedding her pretenses and finding a relationship in which she may be herself.

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