There is probably a number, some gargantuan rounded-up figure that attempts to tell the story of how many people have died at sea. But we know that the bodies lost to raging waters is certainly a story much beyond a number. And in the end, that is the story The Perfect Storm tells us.
The Andrea Gail
The Perfect Storm is completely wrapped into its ship, the vessel that binds the lives of 6 men to it. As Captain Billy Tyne, played by George Clooney, decides to go on a fishing expedition to make up for last time’s poor catch and for his own redemption. He is accompanied by a crew of 5, men of varying temperaments and experience, each with their own reason to come on board.
There is no treasure waiting for the men, but there is fish. Fish that they can find if they go farther than they have so far. It is fortune, adventure, reputation, and livelihood- all bound together in the horizon they will sail towards. Despite personal relationships, warnings from friendly rivals who know better than to brave the bad weather, and the last-minute replacement of a crew member, the crew of the Andrea Gail are sure that this is going to be the trip that changes their life.
It is clear to the audience, and to all the characters other than the six, that the trip is a mistake. But there is nothing to stop the men or the ship, set on the promise of fortune from the sea. And so, shrouded in misgivings, leaving behind women they love, warnings, and a life on the shore, the crew of the Andrea Gail, set off into the perfect storm.
The Storm and its Wake
As the men experience victory and have a taste at their chance of fortune, it is swiftly taken away. They catch enough and more of the fish they hoped to, having sailed farther out than usual. But as their ice machine breaks down, they have no choice but to sail back through the storm to shore. They cannot let the fish they have bought go to waste. They have proved to themselves that the trip has achieved what it was meant to. They have to prove it to the world too.
It is this decision that sets the course of what will happen to the men and the ship. As the crew underestimates the storm’s severity and the hurricane that has formed, they sail their way into danger. The problems they face are harsh and violent, much like the nature of the sea they so love.
There is a rescue mission that doesn’t complete its intended rescue, and the Andrea Gail has no one coming to get them anymore. Even as their families and loves wait with bated breath, hoping and praying for the sight of the fishing boat on the familiar horizon, it never comes. We realize, the storm is going to swallow them whole.
The Men of Sea
As we watch the film enters its last act, it is with sorrow and hopelessness. The Andrea Gail is finally overturned by the sea it has fought for so long. All but two of the men are trapped inside, and the ship is losing. The Captain of the sword-boat, the Captain who brought them out here, is going to go down with his ship. Even the one man who swims out, can do nothing but stare at the raging, violent waters and say his final goodbye to the woman he loves. And somewhere, we hope she can hear him.
It is an ending that brings forth too many questions in us. It is easy to watch the men in the film and wonder, is anything worth this? Why can’t they just wait it out? Why don’t they listen to everybody who’s saying no? What does the sea hold, in its vast raging expanse? It is a question they seem to answer over and over.
As the Captain’s words wash over us in the end, we know. ‘You’re a goddamn sword boat captain. Is there anything better in the world?’
The Perfect Storm is a 2000 Survival film directed by Wolfgang Petersen.