The most insightful review of everyone's favorite surf movie!
Before I go into my review of View from a Blue Moon, I think it’s only fair to disclose the biases I bring with me.
I’m so fucking over shots of beautiful scenery. Been there, done that. I understand that the vast majority of the world is stuck in lives of quiet desperation, city-bound, struggling to scrimp and save so they can one day visit a humid warm land where the trades leave salt crystals in your lashes and everyone is baked a latte brown by a friendly sun. But that’s my day to day.
I’ve seen the sky explode in a riot of color over the ocean more times than I can possibly count, enjoyed every shade of vivid green you can possibly imagine. Crystal clear reefs or cold water kelp paddies, waves crashing on jagged lava rock, mossy boulders, lapping gently against the shores of white sand beaches that stretch as far as the eye can see. People talk of being high on life, I’ve been privileged enough to build quite the tolerance. It’s the main reason I enjoy playing tour guide when people hit the island, it often takes a fresh pair of eyes to kick me out of my own jaded torpor.
So a lot of the film doesn’t resonate with me. Artfully composed, perfectly framed, wonderfully colored, it doesn’t really matter. I’m not the best audience for that kind of thing.
While Kelly Slater is the greatest surfer who’s ever lived, it’s become apparent that John John Florence is the best. Never before has a single surfer dominated every possible ocean condition with the style and aplomb that Florence does. Due to his amazing skill, and apparent total lack of regard for his own safety, View from a Blue Moon contains what may be the highest volume of mind blowing surfing ever stuffed into a single video. Every single aspect of JJ’s game is so high it may as well be a totally different sport than whatever the hell it is the rest of us do in the water. It holds some pretty heavy ramifications for the future. Thousands upon thousands of little sun burned groms are watching his every move, and he’s the level to which they’ll aspire.
I went into the film with the misconception that it would be about John John, rather than star him. I thought it would give some sort of insight into his life, show a little about what makes him tick. Introduce some humanity to leaven his super human ability. It does not, or, at least, I don’t believe it does.
No one’s life is perfect. We all struggle, mourn, crave something always out of reach. To be sure, JJ got pretty lucky. Loving mother, caring brothers, an unbelievable home in one of the best places on Earth. But he’s not alone in his possession of those things, plenty before him have been blessed with the same and still crashed and burned into lives of addiction or failure or just plain old mediocrity.
It’s easy to write off his ability at a young age to natural talent, but that belies the fact he’s spent his entire life in waves of consequence, and no one gets this good without caring so much that failure could crush their soul.
Slater’s spent the last few decades living a similar trip. Everything real kept private, a public persona that shows a driven man, but not a haunted one. And I find it hard to believe that anyone with the insane drive that Kelly has is truly happy with himself, all of the time. Or even most. Self-loathing is a powerful motivator, the absence of a father figure has a profound effect on a worldview. Cracks in that facade seem to be finally showing, as though, after all these years, the mask doesn’t fit so well anymore.
I wonder about John John Florence. I wonder what drives him to try so damn hard. I wonder about the times he hates his own reflection. I wonder about Alex Florence, whether she worries for her sons’ safety, in the water when they play, or in the world as they travel. I wonder about Nathan and Ivan, growing up in the shadow of an older brother who’s fame seems doomed to eclipse anything they ever accomplish. I was really hoping View from a Blue Moon would shed some light on those topics. But it does not.
In the end, View from a Blue Moon is probably the best surf movie of all time, but it just isn’t my favorite.