Movie #134 Knife in the Water
(1962, Poland, d. Roman Polanski)
Knife in the Water is my favorite director’s feature film directorial debut. And like any Polanksi film, there is a lot more to be read under the surface (pun intended) of what’s actually happening on screen. The film is about a man and his wife, who’s relationship may or may not be failing, who decide to take a day and a half trip on their boat. On the way they pick up a stranger who ends up spending the time with them. The movie is basically about masculinity – as the two battle mentally and physically to come out on top. Is there a reason for this? No. It is just for one to know they beat the other – confirming the thematic content. The “Knife” in the title can refer to many things. From purely a plot point, it can refer to the stranger’s knife he carries in his pocket that’s his only valued possession. It can refer to the boat, shaped like the tip of a knife, and often pictured cutting through the water – perhaps a commentary on what overt assertions of masculinity do to a sense of calm. But it can also refer to a penis. I’m serious. Watch the movie. You’ll understand. And if it wasn’t clear enough, the movie is also filled to the brim (again pun intended) with sexual allegories and motifs. At one point, there is a shot where the stranger is blowing air into a doll and the husband is shaking a machine part with his hand. It looks exactly like…well…you can figure that out. But apart from all the subtext, Knife in the Water also works very well as a thriller. Like any Polanksi feature, tension builds slowly and often you don’t know how much tension is building until we are reminded. It is a sign of Polanksi’s mastercraft and is something I hope to see in the future as well.