In 1955, Jacques-Yves Cousteau and film director Louis Malle sailed 12,000 nautical miles aboard the Calypso to film the first underwater colour movie. A year later, they showed everyone a whole new world, and the exhilarating freedom of diving.
Cousteau's team descended into the waters of the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Indian Ocean to show the world how magical and amazing the sea is. In the process, they also demonstrated how free humans could feel in that world, flying over reefs and among all kinds of weird and wonderful creatures thanks to the new aqualung.
The world got the message. Audiences watched in awe, and the film won an Academy Award and the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival. It wasn't the most environmentally conscious film, however. Cousteau did quite a few wrong things while filming Le Monde du Silence, like dynamiting a coral reef to make a census of the - dead after the stun - life around it. Later, he realised his mistakes and dedicated his life to explore the oceans without leaving any mark in them. He became the first protector of the sea, the "first environmentalist", as Ted Turner called him. This change is something that you can see in The Silent World Revisited, a documentary filmed 50 years after the original film:
I remember watching every single episode of the TV show that followed original The Silent World. With my brothers and sister, we became fixated by the deep blues, the radiant turquoises, and the million of colours from the animals and plants that populated this alien world in Earth. I wanted to do the same, even having dreams about it.
In the years after the film, diving became a recreational activity that anyone could practice. Thanks to organisations like PADI, you could learn how to dive safely and enjoy the same freedom that Cousteau and his crew enjoyed in The Silent World.
For me, diving came a lot time after I watched The Silent World for the first time. I remember the first time, and I still get goosebumps. It was a dive baptism, so I didn't have any training, just a brief safety explanation on the scuba equipment, the hand signals (up, down, no air, octopus, SHARK!), and how to adjust my pressure as I went down. After that, I jumped in and Addy's hand took me into the warm waters of Fernando de Noronha, one of the most beautiful islands in the world. During that time, I couldn't take the man of the red hat out of my mind.
It was an experience I would never forget. Moving in almost complete silence, just listening to the sound of my respiration, the crackling of the coral, and the bubbles escaping to the surface. The first animal I saw was a shark and spooked me out - but coral reef sharks are peaceful animals, and Addy just looked at me with a smile in her eyes. Then all kinds of colourful fishes appeared, followed by big sea turtles and barracudas and even octopus. I couldn't stop marvelling.
Forty minutes later, the dive ended, and I was hooked forever. It was then when all those young kid dreams became a reality, and I realised the importance of Cousteau and his films in my life.
In other words, if you have never watched The Silent World, go rent it or buy it. You will be glad you did. [Cousteau in YouTube]