Shallows

Blake Lively plays Nancy Adams, a medical student who, following her mother’s death from cancer, treks to the same beach in Mexico that her mother visited while pregnant with her. Hoping to enjoy a little sentimental surfing, Nancy instead finds herself the victim of a shark attack and ends up stranded off the coast on a rock as the hungry monster circles her. The Shallows is an okay survival movie and goes by pretty quickly, the dramatic limitations of its essentially one-person story notwithstanding.

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that The Shallows is:

7. Propertarian! A would-be thief is physically removed by the natural order.

6. Pro-gun, if a flare gun counts.

5. Christ-ambivalent. Both good and bad Mexicans are shown with crucifixes.

4. Green. Sony Pictures hopes for “a greener world,” according to an end credits statement. Thinking of the environment rather than herself, starving Nancy opts to help an injured seagull rather than eat it. A hook lodged in the shark’s mouth could be interpreted as an indication that a revenge is being exacted by nature against humanity for some previous wrong.

3. Feminist. Nancy survives on her own, with little to no help from men. The film’s director, in one of the Blu-ray extras, claims that the shark is female; but the creature’s connotative presence onscreen is that of a predatory male, a giant, angry phallus pursuing a woman against her wishes. Poisonous jellyfish, with their dangling tentacles, mimic a threatening swarm of sperm cells that Nancy must avoid. End credits appear over shots of reddened surf, the menstrual coloring celebratory of the avoidance of pregnancy. Instead of raising a family, she will pursue a career as a physician. Her mother, it may be worth noting here, has been punished with cancer and death for procreation. Alternately, The Shallows can be read as a torture porn film masquerading as a women’s empowerment trip. Nancy’s tattoo and bizarre earring mark her as a typically damaged and self-mutilating young woman of her generation – and her carefree display of her body is sure to incense the girlfriendless members of the audience.

2. Anti-racist. The viewer is teased into fearing for Nancy’s safety as she rides in the company of a Mexican stranger, Charlie, on her way to the beach. So friendly is this man that he even refuses to accept money for the ride. Likewise, two young Mexican surfers are employed as red herrings of a sort. They make no attempt to molest the beautiful, solitary gringa, and her brief apprehension that the pair might steal the bag she left on the beach turns out to be unfounded. The only negative portrayal of a local in the film is a drunkard who does, in fact, intend to make away with her belongings. Recent news out of Mexico suggests that The Shallows is probably overly kind in its depiction of this Third World country’s hospitality.

1. Anti-white. The “shallows” of the title are, of course, the waters around the beach; but this word could also refer to those naïve, bumbling Americans who, like Nancy, expect there to be Uber service in rural Mexico. White is associated with death. The antagonist in the film is a “great white”, and the stinging jellyfish glow white at Nancy’s approach. An exception is the wounded seagull, whose company Nancy comes to enjoy. Weak, dysfunctional whiteness, it seems, is the only acceptable kind.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.