Before Olivia Cooke Was Alicent, She Starred in a Haunting Romantic Drama

Movies


The Big Picture

  • Olivia Cooke delivers a spellbinding performance in Little Fish, exploring a relationship struck by an irreversible tragedy.
  • The movie captures the fear, turmoil, and perseverance of a couple facing a pandemic-like Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Little Fish reminds us of the importance of human connection and shared memories, ending on a hopeful note.


Olivia Cooke now comfortably sits in the pop-culture consciousness as Queen Alicent Hightower from House of the Dragon. Given the weight of the franchise and Olivia’s flawless performance, it’s difficult to imagine her as anyone but the mean, green Queen. But while she may not have been as well known before House of the Dragon, she was definitely churning out some very impressive work. Prior to the show, she exhibited her acting prowess and range in movies like Ouija, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, and Ready Player One. But there is one movie of hers that often gets overlooked by her fans and critics alike because of its small budget and unfortunate timing, and that is Chad Hartigan’s Little Fish.

Little Fish

A couple fights to hold their relationship together as a memory loss virus spreads and threatens to erase the history of their love and courtship.

Release Date
February 5, 2021

Director
Chad Hartigan

Runtime
101 minutes

Main Genre
Drama

Writers
Mattson Tomlin , Aja Gabel


What Is ‘Little Fish’ About?

Little Fish imagines a world where its citizens suddenly become ill because of a pandemic induced by an Alzheimer-like disease called Neuro-Inflammatory Affliction (NIA). Very little is known about the disease since it is very new, but it seems to cause memory loss in otherwise young and healthy adults. For some people, the dementia is sudden and violent, while for others it’s more gradual. Little Fish shows us both accounts, and they’re equally heartbreaking. The movie has an interesting premise to play with, but its own interest is laser focused on the inextricable link between memories and love.

We step into this fragile world through Emma’s (Olivia Cooke) eyes. She talks about how, initially, the disease had seemed funny when a marathon runner forgot to stop running or when a fisherman in the middle of the ocean suddenly forgot how to steer his boat. She only realizes the severity of it all when a pilot forgets to fly the plane midair. Then one day, her husband Jude (Jack O’Connell), to whom she’s happily married, gets infected with NIA, and their relationship starts to falter. But it’s not that they start fighting with one another, but rather that they huddle into a scared and desperate corner as uncertainty looms before them. Jude’s situation continues to worsen and all attempts to salvage the sweet memories fail. At the same time, we are given flashes of those memories which make us feel like it’s a relationship worth saving.

Olivia Cooke and Jack O’Connell Have Perfect Chemistry in ‘Little Fish’

Little Fish was released during an actual pandemic, but the timing was utterly coincidental. The movie is actually based on a short story by Aja Gabel of the same title. The film itself was announced in 2019 and was wrapped up by 2020. Still, the coincidence was advantageous; it ascribed the movie with a sense of immediacy and relatability at the time of its release. But it wasn’t just the context of a global pandemic that made the movie brilliant. Two years later, now that the horrors of the pandemic have begun receding into the backdrop of the decade, Little Fish still holds up as a hauntingly beautiful movie. And one of the reasons the movie works so well is because of strong performances by Cooke and O’Connell.

Little Fish is one of those movies that just wants to explore the minutiae of a relationship more than anything else. As such, it doesn’t really have a grand plot or conflicts. The movie silently and gracefully swims through the ups and downs of a relationship that has been struck by an irreversible tragedy. But in order to make this story work, the viewer needs to buy into the authenticity of Emma and Jude’s love. And here, it’s the pure talent from Cooke and O’Connell that makes the story come alive. The chemistry between the two is palpable, lending authenticity to their portrayal of a couple struggling to preserve their bond in the face of overwhelming adversity. Cooke is spellbinding as a loving wife, who is determined to salvage her relationship in the face of the inevitable.

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Her assertive face combined with vulnerable eyes convey the inner turmoil of someone who’s scared but chooses to feign strength for herself and the one she loves. Sometimes, her perseverance starts appearing like a gentle anger that never explicitly shows. It’s not her ill husband she’s angry at though, but rather the mystical forces of fate that forced such strain into her happy relationship. O’Connell, previously seen in Starred Up and Lady Chatterley’s Lover, is on par with Cooke. When amnesia hits, O’Connell carries a great loss in his eyes that encompasses shades of fear, regret, and confusion. It would be too easy and intuitive to incorporate dramatic meltdowns into his characters’ experience, but O’Connell’s method is of restraint and subtlety. The end product of it all is a deeply intimate romance that’s as organic as it is wholesome.

‘Little Fish’ Is a Devastating, but Hopeful Watch

The fear of memory loss is always an existential one; it forces you to see how your personhood, your very essence, ceases to exist without your memory. And there certainly is that type of fear to be felt in Little Fish, but the movie wants us to look at Emma and Jude’s relationship as a living, breathing organism that’s suffering from a disorder. We follow their relationship from its very inception — the awkwardness of their first encounter to the excitement of their first kiss. And as Jude gets infected with NIA, we see how it makes the relationship ill and depressed.

There is a point in the movie where Jude recalls his wedding day with Emma, complete with mundane but charming details. He narrates the day with genuine fondness that proves without a shadow of a doubt that the couple are meant to be. But then, at the peak of this sweet moment, we learn that the memory Jude is recalling is entirely false, and that he doesn’t even remember their special day anymore. It’s a technique that the movie consistently utilizes throughout its runtime — it flies us to a hopeful point only to drop us from a greater height without ever letting us hit the ground.

Indeed, Little Fish has a very melancholic tone to it; there is immense longing and aching. But despite the tragedy, the movie isn’t cynical. Little Fish genuinely believes that human connection and its shared memory is what makes life worth living. And it ends on a similarly wholesome note, best summarized by Emma herself, “They say you can’t forget feelings, and I still believe that.”

Little Fish is available to stream on Hulu in the U.S.

Watch on Hulu



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