In the midst of this madness, Emma (Olivia Cooke) and Jude (Jack O’Connell) fall in love and get married. She is a veterinary technician at a Seattle animal shelter. He’s a photographer and former drug addict who has been clean for the past five years. After a cute encounter on a secluded beach with the help of a sweet, scruffy dog named Blue, the two quickly click. Hartigan leaps back in time, offering us the dizzying first days of their romance through impressionist whispers: dives in a water park, sparklers at a backyard party, stolen kisses at a nightclub. These moments, so free and fleeting, will take on greater significance as the film progresses. And while this sort of wispy edit may initially seem like an overused indie film device, its ethereal tone is relevant to telling a story about the elusive nature of memory.
“Little Fish” questions whether it is better to lose your memory all at once and be done with it or watch it slowly drift away in drops and gray. We see subtly frightening examples of a marathon runner who forgets to stop when his run is over, or a bus driver who pulls to the side, gets out and starts walking down the street, blocking his passengers. Emma explains in a low-key voiceover that these anecdotes first fascinated her – there was almost a romanticism about them. But then the disease strikes home when she begins to see evidence of it in Jude. The mystery of this disease – which can claim anyone at any time, regardless of age or previous medical condition – is how it suddenly turns the mundane into terrifying. How bad are you just with names and dates, and how bad is something more debilitating coming up? Hartigan never strikes a hysterical tone, resulting in realistic horror within the recognizable limits of everyday life.
While the first half of “Little Fish” has a melancholy vibe, the second half has a more insistent energy, as Jude has more and more difficulty remembering details big and small. Apparently borrowed from “Memento”, it writes notes on the back of the Polaroids. (And maybe it’s a bit on the nose that Jack’s chosen profession is to capture moments in time through stills.) Others, like Jude’s longtime musician friend Ben ( Raúl Castillo), tattoo important information about their body. In a post-apocalyptic sci-fi image, Emma spots a sign in a tattoo parlor offering 80% off so people can get inked with relevant personal details they might otherwise forget.