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Man of Aran (1934)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

A caption sets the scene: "The Aran Islands are off Western Ireland. All three are small wastes of rock without soil. In winter storms they are almost smothered by the sea which because of the peculiar shelving of the coastline piles up into one of the most gigantic seas in the world. In this desperate environment the Man of Aran because his independence is the most precious privilege he can win from life, fights for his existence bare though it might be. It is a fight from which he will have no respite until the end of his indomitable days or until he meets his master - the sea."

A boy plays in a rock-pool. He catches a crab and puts it in his hat for safe keeping. At home, his mother cooks and tends the baby. She watches the sea as the waves crash on the shore. She makes sure the baby is asleep and goes outside. She sees her son and calls out to him.

A rowing boat bobs about in the ocean trying to land. Mother and son watch and then run to help the fishermen come ashore. They bring the boat in and show how it has been holed. Everyone suddenly realises that the fishing net is being washed away. Huge waves make it extremely difficult for them to get it back. They almost get washed away. They finally get the net but it is in need of a lot of repair. The mother, her son and her husband, one of the fishermen, walk across the rugged shoreline to their home.

The family prepare some ground for growing a crop. There is no soil and this is a difficult task. The man breaks rocks to create a flat bed whilst the woman collects seaweed. This acts as a foundation for the soil which she collects from the crevices in between the rocks. The soil is placed on the seaweed and rocks are put around the soil to protect it from the wind.

Another man from the fishing crew mends the boat with an oil skin and tar. He sees the boy who is walking up to the cliff. The boy carries a fishing line. He unwinds the line and places the crab he saved earlier on the hook. He throws the line over the immensely tall cliff and fishes for a short while. He soon catches a fish. He throws his line down again but retracts it quickly as he sees something in the depths. It is a basking shark. The men are already out at sea trying to catch one as they are a good source of food and fuel. An epic two day struggle ensues as they harpoon the shark and it escapes and struggles. The mother and her son wait anxiously.

She suddenly sees them coming into the shore with the shark and they run down to help bring it in. The entire community then arrive to help disembody the shark. The mother and her son set up a huge cauldron in order to cook the shark's liver for oil.

The men go out to sea again to catch another shark. The first shark's liver is cooking and the mother decants the oil.

Again, the struggle takes days but this time the sea is much rougher. The woman and her son wait very anxiously. The waves crash over the enormous cliffs and the mother and her son appear as tiny figures against the landscape. Finally the little boat appears. It is very treacherous trying to land but at last they come ashore. Their boat is smashed to pieces. The family walk solemnly back to their house. The man looks back at his boat and the sea contemplating the power of the sea and his luck at being alive.