The Deepest Breath is as stunning as it is graphic and disturbing.
Aiming to belong in the same company as other recently acclaimed extreme sport documentaries (Free Solo, The Dawn Wall), filmmaker Laura McGann gives viewers an intimate look into the art of freediving, where athletes risk everything to reach new depths of the ocean. The sport itself never stops shocking the audience. McGann sends the viewer alongside the divers as their surroundings turn from blue to black as they search for their checkpoint. The chilly minimalism, the adrenaline rushes, and the dangerous conditions of these expeditions absolutely translates to the audience. It’s the aftermath of these dives that triggered different discomfort.
While The Deepest Breath shows successful dives, the attempts that end in mid-swim blackouts and surfacing convulsions are very tough to watch. Granted, the audience initially understands the degree of danger with this sport- we know what we signed up for. But it feels like McGann, after receiving permission from the audience, assumes it’s okay to show close-ups of people essentially drowning on camera. Is there a way to address these effects without showing visual evidence? I don’t know. But, some of this footage is too close for comfort and negatively affects the moviegoing experience. Netflix confidently sports a PG rating for The Deepest Breath. Even if Netflix slapped a disclaimer at the beginning, a PG rating still wouldn’t feel appropriate.
The documentary, thankfully, uses two individual lives to help build a narrative around the sport – safety diver and instructor Stephen Keenan and fearless athlete Alessia Zecchini. Their stories eventually intersect and, late into the third act, The Deepest Breath reveals that the title isn’t solely attributing itself to freediving. These personal touches are nice distractions and remind the viewer of the emotional complexities behind each plunge. When the ending plucks at our heartstrings, McGann softens the audience’s mistrust and reclaims our interest.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie