BREATH is a Cinematic Siren to the Ocean’s Allure

We all know Simon Baker, an Aussie actor turned international actor probably best known as TV’s THE MENTALIST or in THE DEVIL WEAR’S PRADA. A true Aussie surfer boy turned international star. He had never directed a film before but as a true Aussie he reads all of Tim WInton’s work and when he read BREATH he stated to Channel 7’s Matt Tinney, “It felt a lot like someone had dug into my soul and beautifully articulated the things I felt inside.” And so the seeds of a debut direction were sown. Baker captured and understood the essence of BREATH and more so the psyche of Winton’s mind in delivering this Aussie masterpiece to the big screen.

BREATH isn’t cinema, it’s cinematic poetry and it releases in Australian on May 3 from Roadshow Films. It is rated M and runs for 115mins.


Breath Ben Spence and Samson Coulter image
Ben Spence and Samson Coulter



BREATH is a story about youthful recklessness and the lengths we will go, against our better judgment, to avoid feeling ordinary. Bruce “Pikelet” Pike is a boy growing up in Sawyer, a small, charmless coastal town. Together with his unlikely friend Loonie, the boys discover the adrenaline rush of surfing and fall under the spell of an enigmatic big-wave surfer named Sando, who takes the boys under his wing and challenges them to take on bigger risks and ride waves beyond their control. As the boys mature into adolescence, each discovers his own longings and limits, and the rift that develops between them threatens to push each toward self-destruction.


Breath Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter image
Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter



BREATH is a subtle approach into the soulful allure of the ocean by coastal living Australians. But it is much more if you know Winton. The title “BREATH” always felt odd. Then you notice the entire movie looks at breathing and the feeling of being stifled.

The movie starts with Pikelet and Loonie (could they be any more Tim Winton in their naming?) competing as to who can hold their breath the longest. When pummelled under the surf Pikelet regularly is gasping for breath and someone in the movie has a sexual fetish to need to be choked during sex. Why a scene listening to Pikelet’s dad snore? And then there is Pikelet himself, whenever he is stressed he does a breath “thing,” it’s on its way to panting. And the major nod to breath is the ocean itself – it comes in and out, like air, and it’s size is determined by swell and ocean winds.

Sharing this theme is the beauty of youth and the erosion of age. And finally what it means to be extraordinary, by not wanting to surf the biggest craziest break does this make Pikelet ordinary or smart, knowing his limits? Eva’s (Elizabeth Debicki) destroyed leg and her inability ski anymore leaves her stifled and choking on life, she is decayed. Is Sando’s (Simon Baker) desire to push the youths a way for him to re-assure himself that he still has his youth to some extent? It is almost primitive in his challenge to Pikelet. Is Eva’s need to pull Pikelet closer to her the same reason? And how far will the boys go in their need to be more than ordinary? Do you remember your mates egging you on to do something more dangerous than you would normally embrace?


I spoke to a friend last night who was at the Sydney premiere and they had a QnA with everyone in the movie (where was my invite?) but Winton explained it was a love story. At first I didn’t get it – but then as well as the breathing aspect of the themes love is noticeable everywhere. The love of a best friend, the love of the more adventurous father figure, the first love, the sexual love, the family love, the love of the ocean and eventually the love of one’s self. The only true love that survived this story was the one that also contained respect. Nice one Mr Winton!!


Breath Samson Coulter, Simon Baker and Ben Spence
Samson Coulter, Simon Baker and Ben Spence



Following the themes of the movie it is, simply, a work of beauty. Such wonderful muted warm tones contrasted against the blue of the ocean. All the fibres of the clothing are close to hand knit, and naturally fibrous. Marden Dean’s (BOYS IN THE TREES) land cinematography is just superb, and as beautiful is Rick Rifici’s ocean cinematography.

The surfing is so poetically natural, it was like watching a ballet, except the stage is throwing tonnes of water at the dancers. The water scenes are visually real and you can tell there is no green screen or cheap inserted green screen actors surfing. I could have watched a four hour version of this movie with more surfing and more of the cast. Most of the film is shot in Denmark, Western Australia, and what a beautiful town and beaches this place has. Wouldn’t mind living there myself!


Breath Samson Coulter and Ben Spence image
Samson Coulter and Ben Spence



It was a daring and beautiful move by Baker and Producers to cast Samson Coulter and Ben Spence, they cast the two leads for their surfing and taught them to act. Coulter is actually a local to where I live and both boys are junior competitive surfers. Their acting is more than acceptable, it’s raw and the lens eats them both up. Coulter’s Pikelet is an introverted thinker who knows himself and stands for what he believes in, he has a lot of screen time and for a debut performance it was marvellous. I see one of the many AFI awards coming to BREATH this year deservedly ending up in the hands of Coulter.

Ben Spence as Loonie, this kid was a complete flashback to my youth. I was Pikelet to some extent growing up on the Australia coastline, I had two close friends at separate times that were both Loonie’s. Spence’s delivery of Loonie was at times hysterical, I would love to see him do more movies after this! Sadly my friends’ outcome wasn’t far from Loonie’s.

Simon Baker is wonderful onscreen in anything, he is so laid back and his voice, it’s almost hypnotic. Let’s add to that how gorgeous he is, I would love his hippy-by-the-beach lifestyle! And what a transformation for Elizabeth Debicki, from GATSBY to THE NIGHT MANAGER to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY 2, all quite commercial and model-like beauty roles. To see her bare and stretching her range was fantastic. My heart broke a little for her. 


Breath Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter image
Simon Baker, Ben Spence and Samson Coulter image



BREATH is one of the most resonating Australian movies I have seen in years that deserves all the accolades coming its way. The film is more than beautiful, it is a cinematic siren to the ocean’s allure and of how its beauty balanced with danger is a mirror for maturing from child to adult. No movie has made me think this deeply since, like, forever haha.





 owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the  industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.