Haunted by an impending loss, a man returns to work on a fishing trawler. But grief is a leviathan not easily shaken.

Filmed primarily at sea onboard an active fishing trawler, Ishmael is a blending of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick with a personal story of a battle with terminal illness.

The Birth of the Idea

What was to become Ishmael began life as a music video pitch about a man lost at sea, surrounded by a troupe of synchronised swimmers. As time passed and writer/director Toby Morris’ mother battled with and was eventually lost to lung cancer, this vague concept evolved into something more personal. Enter Herman Melville; whose seminal work Moby-Dick; or, The Whale presented itself as a perfect allegory to the experience. The story of Captain Ahab’s fatal battle with an ancient and indestructible force, and the narrator Ishmael’s helpless recounting of the events. “And I only am escaped alone to tell thee”. The whale became cancer, Ahab the patient, and Ishmael: us. What results is a film which is an amalgamation of Melville’s opus and Morris’ experiences; a raw cinematic work which is at once thematically grand and emotionally intimate.

Director’s Vision for ‘Ishmael’

For the past few years I was haunted by a leviathan. It sat there, below the surface, quietly latching on to the edges of normality and gripping tight, warping the most innocuous occasion into something of its own design. I was only ever at the periphery of its fatal path, but close enough to see its power. That leviathan was a cancer, embedded in my mother’s left lung, slowly spreading, deforming and claiming her entirely. Having witnessed its destructive force I also saw the ways in which the experience allowed those around to rise above it; once-dormant bonds resurfacing, and a vast support network holding us all just above the terrible depths of despair. Every day before entering the palliative care ward I would take a deep breath, bracing myself for what new horrors lay beyond those clean glass doors. Ishmael is an expression of that breath. This is a film about grief, but more importantly it is a film about love.