“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is the new movie from director Lasse Hallstrom. He’s made some excellent movies – “Chocolat,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” and “The Cider House Rules” are some of my favorites. He also made “Dear John.” Nobody’s perfect.
“Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a light, enjoyable movie. Perhaps it is too light at times, but there is something to be said for, as one character says, “a story from the Middle East that doesn’t involve things blowing up.”
Briefly, the story involves a Yemeni salmon-fishing Sheikh (Amr Waked) with the titular dream. He wants to go salmon fishing in the Yemen which is, of course, pretty much desert. Ewen McGregor is Dr. Jones, a fish scientist with Asperger’s who is pulled into the Sheikh’s scheme despite his insistence that it is impossible. There’s also a sort of love story between McGregor’s character and a financial adviser played by Emily Blunt, and a sub-plot about a soldier missing in Afghanistan, and . . . in the movie’s best performance, Kristen Scott Thomas as a ruthless (at her job and with her kids) Press Secretary to the Prime Minister.
At its heart though, this is a film about faith. The Sheikh has faith in the improbable, and the fish scientist has faith in only what is concrete. That conflict is encapsulated in a dinner conversation between the sheikh and the scientist. (You can watch it here.)
Here’s the heart of that discussion:
Sheikh: It would be a miracle of God if it were to happen.
Dr. Jones: I’m more of a facts and figures man.
Sheikh: You aren’t a religious man, Dr. Jones?
Dr. Jones: No I’m not.
Sheikh: But you’re a fisherman Dr. Jones.
Dr. Jones: I’m sorry I don’t follow.
Sheikh: How many hours do you fish before you catch something?
Dr. Jones: Hundreds sometimes.
Sheikh: Is that a good use of your time as a facts and figures man. But you persist, with such poor odds of success. Why? Because you’re a man of faith, Dr. Alfred. In the end, you are rewarded for your faith and constancy.
Dr. Jones: With due respect, fishing and religion are hardly the same thing your excellency.
Sheikh: With equal respect, I have to disagree.
Now I’m no fisherman (patience is a gift of the spirit that I need to pray for more of), but I love the analogy. Dr. Jones’ journey from skeptic to believer is compelling to watch. In that sense, even in its lightness “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a film with some spiritual heft. With so many “Christian films” having the depth of a dry Yemeni stream-bed, “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” is a well worth watching and thinking about.