Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is a quirky lighthearted film about a sheik’s ambitious project to construct a dam, create a river and introduce salmon to it so he can pursue his fishing hobby. In the desert. At a time of strained Anglo-Arab relations, the British government sees the project as an opportunity to improve its public image, so fisheries expert Dr Alfred “Fred” Jones (Ewan McGregor) is assigned to work with the sheikh and his representative Ms Harriet Chetwode-Talbot (Emily Blunt).
The movie is actually based on a novel by Paul Torday, which, judging by these quotes seems like it would be an interesting read. From a purely filmmaking perspective, though, I think the production team tried to do slightly too much with the film; switching rapidly between comedy, drama, romance, political comment, spiritual reflection and cultural insight. As a result, the film comes across somewhat disjointed at times which is unfortunate for a premise with such grand vision.
At the heart of the sheik’s vision is a deep appreciation for the beauty and wonder of the natural world. The sheik says he wants to build the project for the glory of God but he fears doing it for the glory of man, because of man’s hubris. But I would say to the sheik, why can’t it be both (assuming the environmental impact is managed correctly!)? God’s command to man was to exert a loving dominion over the earth:
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
Genesis 2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.
That’s something we don’t always get right in the same way we struggle to love others. Nevertheless, to the extent that we do science and care for the world, I think we can embrace an healthy appreciation for human capacity, as long as we recognize that we are harnessing physical laws, chemistry and biological processes built into a universe that is not ours and which we ourselves did not create. We are stewards. Albeit imperfect ones. (This helps us avoid hubris.)
Dr Jones, as the man of science, also shares the sheik’s passion for both nature and fishing. We join in as the camera glories in the teeming life beneath our waters, the writhing energy of fish, and the privilege of enjoying the natural world. At times, the film’s conversations dance playfully around questions of science and faith, not pushing one way or the other instead preferring to observe nature as it is (perhaps the book is bolder in this respect?).
The Christian worldview attributes the beauty and goodness of creation to the beauty and goodness of a god who lovingly creates and sustains everything. The creation account of Genesis 1 celebrates a good God filling his good creation with an abundance of life:
Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
As the God of the Bible creates a finely-tuned universe with a finely-tuned planet which allows waters to teem with fish and humans to thrive, so too the sheik harnesses the knowledge and understanding of the natural world to create a new ecological system with the conditions necessary for life to thrive; introducing life to a world where there was no life.