A paraplegic woman draws inspiration from an injured magpie in Netflix’s Penguin Bloom
What happens when a bird, despite having wings, fails to fly? Even when it looks up into the endless blue of the sky, what if it’s unable to soar high? One might say that the bird loses its will to live, feels caged, with its wings clipped.
Samantha Bloom feels the same, as if her wings have been clipped, after she meets with a life-altering accident. Sam – a middle aged woman, a surfer by passion and nurse by profession, on a family trip to Thailand suffers an accident – after which she becomes paralysed from chest down and is wheelchair-bound for life. The film depicts the aftermath of this incident – how she and her family (husband and three sons) mentally and physically grapple with it. This is Netflix’s Penguin Bloom, starring Naomi Watts and directed by Glendyn Ivin.
As Noah, Sam’s eldest son says, “Mom loves the ocean.” Thereby we are told of the family’s fondness for the sea, surfing and their house on an Australian beach. Thus, for a woman like her – whose identity and self is synonymous to this, life seems to come to a standstill. Her family, even after immense efforts, fails to keep up her spirit. But that’s when an injured bird – a black and white magpie – is brought home by Noah.
Even though initially unwelcoming of the bird, Sam starts growing fond of it. She starts seeing her own reflection in Penguin (as they name the bird) – a bruised soul with clipped wings. The bond between the two isn’t just that of a mistress and her pet – it’s more like two souls traversing the same path, a shared journey of hope.
Penguin’s attempts to fly inspire Sam, and she starts learning kayaking. Being in the water brings back her spirit and revives her old self – little by little. Her family and her bond start getting back to what it was – before the life-shattering accident. And all this is possible because of a little bird – which comes in the disguise of an angel and blessing.
The film is a moving, soul-stirring at the same time inspirational tale – based on a true story (based on a novel of the same name). It has some heart-warming, emotional scenes which are bound to leave one teary-eyed. Sam breaks into tears after her husband attends to their sons falling sick and vomiting one night. She lies there, worried, unable to help them. “What am I if I can’t even be a mum,” she asks her husband after breaking down.
Another emotionally charged up scene is when Sam, for the first time after her accident, confronts her family and opens up to them – especially her son Noah, who was somewhere blaming himself for the tragic event. Then, how the bird becomes a part of their family is also heartwarming to watch.
Naomi Watts shines brightest in this drama, and gives a performance worth remembering. She internalises the character so well that each scene looks real. It is her acting that makes the film a beautiful and touching tale. Though at times it feels like ‘been there, done that’, even then it is worth a watch. The Australian coastline, which forms the backdrop of this family drama, also gives a soothing touch to the film.
Penguin Bloom is all about healing, and learning to fly yet again – be it for Sam, or Penguin herself. It’s about finding oneself after losing oneself, and acceptance of life’s good with the bad. To summarise, it’s a film about living and learning to live – even when your wings are clipped!
(Cover image : Naomi Watts in a scene from Penguin Bloom)