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Monk and the Fish, The — Michael Dudok de Wit, 1994

The meaning of this beautiful and spiritual animation is open to interpretation, but it is amusing and profound at the same time. Standing next to a water reservoir in a monastery enclave, a monk sees a fish and goes to get his net to catch it. The fish eludes him and the monk gets rather agitated as he tries increasingly extreme ways of catching the fish. The more the fish manages to evade him, the more obsessed the monk becomes. Eventually the chase gets less frantic and the monk and the fish move in harmony. They float through a door into the open space and drift off into the sky together.

Classroom Activities

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Critical

  • What happens in the story? Whose story is this? How do we know?
  • Why is the monk so determined to catch the fish? What happens to him at the end of the film?
  • Sound On/Vision Off. Cover the screen and ask pupils to listen to the soundtrack (before showing the film for the first time). What do you think the story is about? Discuss what pictures/images you see when you hear this music. What people/places/time do you imagine? What instruments are being used and how do they make you feel? Does the sound/music change? Does the music build to a crescendo? What do the changes mean?
  • After a sound only screening, show the whole film and discuss how the imagined images compare to the real images of the film. How do the music and the monk's movement complement each other?
  • Freeze frame the film between 02:18 and 02:35 minutes when the monk is reading the book in the night. Discuss what can be seen and the composition of the shot. What clues does this shot give us about time and place? Why is he reading alone? What do you notice about the shadows from the window frames? How does this shot compare to the times when he is fishing? What is significant about the colours?
  • Freeze frame the film at 05:05 minutes with the image of the monk at the river crossroads. Discuss what the crossroads might signify. You could do this through word and idea association (for example: “choices” or “dilemmas”). How are these ideas reflected in the composition of the shot? Why is a high angle shot used?
  • Spot the Shots. Note any examples of close-up shots in the film. Why are there close-ups of the buildings but never close-ups of the monk?
  • Spot the Shots. Compare the scene where the monk is chasing the fish along the stream through the obstacles with the final scene of him floating in the sky with the fish. What shot types are used in these sequences and why?
  • Freeze frame the film between 05:29 and 05:45 minutes with the image of the monk and fish in the sky. How does this image of the monk at the end compare with the opening zoom from the shot of the sky? Why does the film come full circle in this shot type and what is its significance? What can we infer from the image of the monk and the fish in the sky?
  • Discuss the use of rhythm and repetition to create a certain mood in storytelling. Look at how the sequence of shots in The Monk and the Fish build up a rhythmic pattern. How does this create a certain mood?

Cultural

  • What can we tell about the character of the monk from how he is dressed?
  • What can we tell about the setting? Where are we? Is it in a particular country? Do the buildings and windows give any clues?
  • What would you expect to see in a monastery? Why?
  • What would be the first line of this story in written form and why?
  • What do you think the moral of this story is? Make a list of any other stories that hold a similar message. Is the message any stronger in written narrative than in a visual narrative? Do the different forms establish the narratives in a similar way?
  • Discuss and analyse parables and fables in general in storytelling. List other examples of myths, legends, parables or fable stories (e.g. parables in the Bible or Aesop’s fables). Discuss how storytelling is used to communicate a message or idea.
  • Reflect on the ideas presented by the film. Have you ever really wanted something as much as the monk? How did you get it? Did you ask your friends for help? Compare notes on the ways people feel about wanting something and the tactics they use to get it.

Creative

WRITE

  • Capture a still of the final scene from the film and write a caption to summarise the moral of the story.
  • Write a set of instructions to catch a fish.
  • Create your own fable with a moral inspired by the film. Present it in either written form, storyboard or create a film version.
  • Write an original story based on one of the following sayings: “A fish out of water”; “There are plenty more fish in the sea”; “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again”.

FILMMAKING

  • Create new diegetic sound effects, record them and add them to the soundtrack of the downloaded film.

DRAW

  • Using drawings of moments from the film (or screenshots), add thought bubbles to the monk character that captures what he might be thinking.
  • Use photo software to create reflective pictures like those in the film. Create an art exercise where children draw/paint pictures with reflections in them.
  • Make a flip book to show the movement of the monk catching the fish.
  • Create some silhouette pictures and colour washes.

MUSIC

  • Record alternative music to the jolly, sombre music. Play it with the film.
  • Draw a musical score for the monks in the style of Tudor music.

DANCE

  • Research and create a Tudor-themed dance.

STEM

  • Explore how to measure and calculate symmetry, shape, reflection, angles.

RELIGIOUS AND MORAL STUDIES

  • What do the following religious symbols mean and why are they used? Fish, candle, water, ascending into heaven, crossroads of the waterway path, water jars? Look at links with the parables in the New Testament.

Clip Details

Record Id 007-002-000-127-C
Resource Rights Holder Folimage S.A.S
Project Ref STSH2-11
Year of Production 1994
Genre Comedy, Drama
Curriculum Areas Expressive Arts, Modern Languages, Literacy and English, Religious and Moral Education
Director Michael Dudok de Wit
Country of Origin UK
Medium / Content 2D Animation, Fiction, Colour, Sound
Themes Feelings, Identity / Self, Creative Expression
Clip Length 06:00
Clip Length 06:00
Age Group S1-S3, S4-S6