If fear of judgement, the desire to be liked at the cost of our identity, and trying to be all things to all people are characteristics associated with Canadians, then the protagonist of Andre Turpin’s Un Crabe Dans La Tete is the ultimate Canadian.
Alex (David La Haye) is a 31-year-old underwater photographer whose fear of rejection and confrontation have left him frozen in an adolescent state, not unlike one of his own still photographs.
Three factors determine his actions, and are also the basic obstacles in his life—his fear of being judged, the fear of confrontation and his immense desire to please everyone.
All these are typical of Canadians, says director/screenwriter Andre Turpin, best known as director of photography in last year’s jewel in the Canadian cinematic crown, Maelstrom.
“If you look at people from Canada, we are very much like that—the disease to please. I think it comes from different factors, one being that we are a very young culture and we don’t have this ancestral and historical background that gives us assurance. I haven’t researched the foundation of our problem, but I really think it’s a big problem and that’s what I wanted to show,” says Turpin.
“We need to get over our fear of confrontation, of being judged by other people—that’s on an interpersonal level, but I think it also applies to Canada on a political level.
“Our relationship with the United States, for example: it’s obvious that we’re just licking their ass. I think we should just stand up and be stronger sometimes.”
Genie-Award winning actor David La Haye, who plays Alex, says that in preparing for the role he had to revert back to his own adolescence.
“It’s a typical portrait of an adolescent teenager…. When you are young, you want to be accepted by everyone around you, so you try make everyone happy.”
After a diving mishap leaves Alex with partial amnesia, he is forced to make a stopover in Montreal, where his complicated past is waiting to consume him. Shortly after arriving, he becomes entangled with nearly everyone he meets.
This, of course, leads to complications, especially since one of these entanglements is spun around by his relationship with his best friend’s lover.
Symbolism features prominently in the movie. The main symbol is the crab, which is shown picking at Alex’s brain in a number of shots strewn throughout the movie.
The image of the crab taking control of his brain is mirrored in Alex’s constant agreement to do things he doesn’t want to do (all to please others).
And, like the crab who always walks sideways, Alex never faces what is in front of him head-on.
Another powerful symbol is in a photo gallery of Alex’s work: pictures of a dead child floating underwater, symbolizing Alex’s stunted growth.
It isn’t until the end of the film, when Alex goes scuba diving, that he frees himself from his burden to please.
Scuba diving is the only place where Alex can be alone without confrontation. When you scuba dive, you are completely detached from reality, left with nothing but your own consciousness.
As he puts on his diving suit he finds the crab in his cap. After taking it out, he is freed from his demons and able to return to society without having to hide behind his acquiescence.