The Big Blue

The Big Blue

The Big Blue (2:48, 1988, 7.7, 63|93%) is a heavily fictionalized account of the friendly rivalry between Frenchman Jacques Mayol and Italian Enzo Majorca (renamed “Molinari”) in the top tiers of free diving. The story focuses on Mayol’s life, and the sehnsucht he yearns for throughout it. The closest he feels to fulfilling this elusive desire is when he dives, something often reported in sport psychology literature as “flow state” or “being in the zone”. This comes across very well throughout the film, with the director aptly capturing what it feels like to be completely immersed in your own world as you do what it is you love.


Mayol (L, Jean-Marc Barr) and Molinari (Jean Reno) conspire to save a dolphin from a local aquarium

The love story Mayol winds through with his American sweetheart is lovely, though her portrayal as a weak, sentimental, clumsy woman certainly drains something out of her character. Character development continues to be a bit two-dimensional (if enjoyable) with the leads — Mayol’s underlined innocence keeps him out-of-reach of any real-life comparisons to people you may know, and Molinari’s stamped machismo would make it easy to hate him were it not for his wide streak of kindness that makes up for it all. Director Luc Besson’s French style is apparent throughout the film, with many scenes leaving you wondering if they are some sort of dream sequence or even a downright metaphor with deeper meaning. The shining element of this story is, however, the rivalry between Mayol and Molinari. Though at the top of their game and each other’s only real competition, they continue supporting each other both in and out of the water. Their conduct is most gentlemanly and I only wish its type were more apparent in sport today.

Mayol and the woman who fell for him: Johana Baker (Rosanna Arquette)

A final note on historical events that actually took place and upon which the film rests: Majorca held his first world diving record in 1960, with a depth of 45m. Swapping the record back and forth a number of times, Mayol finally came out victorious with a record depth of 101m in 1976 (which Majorca came out of retirement to match in 1988), and which Mayol surpassed even further in 1983 with a depth of 105m. Mayol remained interested in pushing his own physiological limits throughout his life, learning to control his body primarily through breathing exercises and yoga. His fascination with dolphins led him to try and emulate them in apnea, eventually learning to slow his heart beat to 27 bmp — less than half the lowest point of the average “normal” range of 60-100 bpm. Mayol’s mind was so entrenched in this topic that he went on to write a book about man’s spiritual connection to the sea. He even successfully predicted that within only a few generations people would be able to dive to 200m and hold their breath for up to ten minutes; current records stand at 214m and 11:35 (22:30 with prior pure oxygen immersion).

One of my favourite scenes shows how it feels to be in the flow state: mentally doing what it is you love

When it comes to rating, this film scores ★★¾. Characters are simple (but nice: ¼), the plot is sufficiently surreal to keep only those interested who ready for this state of mind (½), complexity scores the same for the same, originality sweeps a full point (some of the moments really are beautiful), and recommendability gets only a half-point because this movie is ideal only for those with a bottle of wine and three hours free on a Saturday evening, or for those wanting to see how flow state feels. Or, alternatively for those wishing to see how one can be competitive without losing one’s humanity (it therefore may be a good watch for older athletes with a competitive edge that needs to be tempered a bit).

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