A stupefying song moves from water to shore from the mouths of two carnivorous mermaids: “We won’t eat you my dear. Don’t fear.”
Swims and fins plus
Textures that refract
Water, tinsel, disco
Nocturnal, double-bodied, idle, and effeminate are among the qualities Renaissance astrologer William Lilly assigns Pisces, Jupiter’s watery home. And: “representing a party of no action.” What appears as action in the sea may appear idle or mad on land.
In Ocean, The Velvet Underground sings: Here comes the ocean, languidly, idling, a bit crazed, on a slow repeat. Solid becomes sea foam, one way or another. Venus, born of sea foam, is exalted in Pisces. Sea foam is gross up-close, housing what the ocean coughs up, water’s luscious agitation. Miniature piscine oblivions in superabundances where home is ocean and ocean devours, churns, spits, seduces, lures. Foam, snow globe. Glass, melted sand.
The Lure (2015), directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, unfolds in 1980s Warsaw when two flesh-eating mermaid sisters named Silver and Gold leave the ocean for a nightclub. Song and dance are connective apparatuses: modes of escape and collective processing during dreary times. The carnivorous mermaids sing and dance in a nightclub act called The Lure and the finale includes dunking their lower halves in water, where flesh becomes fishtail.
What can a body do at home? When it’s away? In water? At the club? In a collective assembly of bodies? How do its forms break cases, destroy firmly held notions, merge, and morph?
There’s the domestication and exploitation of bodies that exist in excess of what we’ve previously imagined, exceeding a limit. The mer-sisters, out of breath and weak from land life, get dropped into a swimming pool where their fins appear as they languidly circle the blue tank. There are also new forms for new moves: a freedom that leaps, slithers, and cuts.
“Extreme seductiveness,” writes Georges Bataille in his erotic novel Story of the Eye, “is at the boundary of horror.” Jupiter in Pisces and The Lure: filmic plays on ocean-land, human-fish fissions and fusions, showing the watery boundary to be music itself, and ever-melting. The sisters communicate telepathically in dolphin-like discharges pulled through a synthesizer. There is group telepathy on the dance floor.
“The dancing restaurant culture was typical for Eastern Bloc countries. It was a world where one could escape politics. The dancing connected people from different spheres—bureaucrats, directors, cab drivers, and bankers would all go there to have a good time,” said the film’s director, Agnieszka Smoczyńska, in an interview for Criterion.
In the end, Silver falls in love with a human and gets a surgery, trades fins for legs. Unlike Disney’s version of The Little Mermaid, The Lure shows the painful underground surgical procedure followed by drudgeries of learning to walk with new legs, the body-horror and sacrifice the mermaid makes for love, becoming-human.
In an interview, Smoczyńska said this about the film’s approach to mermaids: “We don’t want to make victims. We want mermaids who’ll fight, who’ll devour. We wanted to make them half-beautiful and half-ugly and this fishtail—long, long, long 2-meter fishtail, full of mucus. You can feel the smell and everything.” The Lure troubles notions of the ocean(ic) as safe, sweet, happy, and graspable. We know barely anything about it. The lure of the sea is also the lure of death, dissolution, limits of flesh: stereophonic enchantment “half-beautiful and half-ugly.”
Revolt, then the spat out remainder. Silver turns to sea foam because her lover marries someone else. Sea foam, sea foam, sea foam, again and again, then gone. “Horror,” says film theorist Eugenie Brinkema, “is the genre that treats the body as a form that can be creatively destroyed.” The Lure, a musical-horror movie, creatively alters and destroys bodies then disappears them, changing their substance. Eros exalted, reaching a limit, bursts.
The Lure and the lure of eros run counter to Disney and the land of little mermaids, where all’s well that ends well. The sea doesn’t hold us (only) tenderly. In Revolt, She said, philosopher Julia Kristeva says:
Today, sexual liberation has degenerated ‘health sex’: an idyllic panacea, a new religion that finishes up as a cocoon or as family life reinstated in a sort of oceanic feeling, where there’s pleasure for all, at any price, no problems. As if there were equality in pleasure, as if Eros weren’t the other face of Thanatos! ‘Holistic’ sex has transformed itself into universal peace, regulated by spectacle and profit, and has ended up confused with the death of desire…
In other words, eroticism and death are always twisted-up: lure of oceanic and lure of metal fishing rod. With its glittering, gnarled sensoria, the film unlocks how novelty and mystique, under consumerism, quickly become spectacle, then institution. Before there’s an attempt at understanding these new creatures, there's a possibility for profit. And auto-exploitation, too. Within or alongside the spectacle, though, flashes of something else...
Sequins and fins with their thousand refractive pieces, induce what Gilles Deleuze calls liquid perception -- a mode freer than human discernment, many images linked-up and moving in haptic iridescence. The Lure’s spatiotemporal excesses include sea-bodies in ecstasy and trouble, testing the bounds of their own mythologies:
I’ll turn into seafoam when…
I’ll lose my voice when…
I’ll return home when…
When? How? At what cost?
Zeus/Jupiter: measure and overflow.
The ocean: vastest/bizarrest container.
The nightclub, rave, carnival: interstitial zone where individual selves dissolve enough for shared pain-pleasure to air, where air thumps, becomes water, gets lit by aquamarine strobes inducing marvelous idling. Sea green transgressions of workweek: another zone churns and nears this one in sequined flickers.