Hollywood Discovers Underwater Welding

Carlos Plaza & Asra Jawaid

Apart from the poorly realized Flashdance (1983), which featured a welder who really wanted to be a dancer, welding has been mostly overlooked by Hollywood. Sure, a fair amount of welding is used to build movie props and every now and then you get a glimpse of someone talking shop, but a plot driven by a person’s job as a welder? Never. Until now. Maybe.

Variety.com has reported that Ryan Gosling, Ken Kai, and entertainment company Anonymous Content have joined forces to produce a movie adaptation of Jeff Lemire’s 2012 graphic novel, “The Underwater Welder.” The New York Times bestseller revolves around Jack Joseph, a career diver and welder, who braves the hazards of underwater welding to maintain the subsurface pipes of an oil rig in the ice-cold waters off the coast of Nova Scotia.

As the story opens, Jack is setting off for one last two-week stint on the rig before taking time off to be with his wife Susan, who is about a month shy of giving birth. Jack is a quiet, sensitive man who is dedicated to his work and cares deeply about his wife and unborn child. However, when Jack suffers a blackout in the same waters where his father mysteriously disappeared many years earlier, we begin to see the turmoil that lies beneath the placid surface of his conscious mind. It’s not difficult to make the connection between the dark abyss of the ocean and the anguish suppressed in the equally dark recesses of Jack’s subconscious. What’s really cool is that Jack uses the language of welding to express it. While simultaneously probing the depths of the ocean and his psyche, Jack tells us:

“I’ve always been good at putting two things back together. It’s easy. You just take two pieces of metal – pipe or rigging, and apply a tungsten electrode and a shielding gas, and like magic, they stick together. You need to ignore the fact that you’re under the water… under all that pressure. Just zero in on the weld itself… let everything else fade into the background. It’s all about control.”

But why is Jack struggling to maintain control? Why is starting a family unleashing hidden demons and threatening to destroy his marriage, his career, and his very life? Lemire explores these questions by extending the surface-subsurface analogy to the temporal realm. You see, after Jack’s diving accident, the line that separates the present from the long-ago night of his father’s disappearance begins to blur. In true Twilight Zone (1959–1964) fashion, Lemire skillfully allows the lives of Jack the boy and Jack the man to intersect and comment on each other.

Will Jack be crushed under the weight of the bitter memories bubbling to the surface of his own cold, dark reality, or will he return from the deep redeemed and ready to raise a family free from the shadows of the past? Given that Gosling and company have yet to name a director, actors, or screenwriters, you may have to wait a while to see the answer played out on the big screen. Until then, you should take a look at the graphic novel. It’s an engaging and affecting story made even more poignant by Lemire’s angular, black-and-white art and creative use of panels. If nothing else, it’s an entertaining read that finally gives welding its overdue moment in the limelight.

Did you know?

Flashdance was based
on the real-life experiences
of Maureen Marder, a welder
and strip club dancer who a
spired to enroll in a prestigious
dance school.

Best Shop Talk!

In No Country for Old Men,
Josh Brolin plays Llewelyn Moss,
a Texas welder and Vietnam
veteran. In this scene, Moss is
lying in a hospital bed recovering
from gunshot wounds. He may be
in way over his head with some
very bad people, but he lets bounty hunter Carson Wells,
(played by Woody Harrelson) know who’s the boss
when it comes to welding.