Water and film

Thursday August 14, 2008 @ 11:31 AM (UTC)

Spoiler Warning: This post contains extremely mild spoilers for Dark City, medium-sized Batman Begins spoilers, and sizable spoilers for Signs and The Wizard of Oz. I will put a friendly bold phrase after the spoiler paragraphs are done, for your skipping pleasure.

I watched the Director’s Cut of Dark City yesterday. The movie was already splendid, but the Director’s Cut was more or less flawless.

I was struck by the fact that the Strangers are afraid of water. This sounds familiar, so I started cataloging all the adversaries in film that are similarly afraid of water. I only got as far as the grays in Signs and the Wicked Witch of the West, but I feel certain there are more. In Dark City it’s particularly intriguing because the adversaries have a conflicted relationship with the human psyche. Sadly, I could not refer to von Franz’s The Interpretation of Fairy Tales as it went in the first box of books I packed, but in it von Franz says that water in fairy tales represents the unconscious (which in Jungian theory is not just the forgotten and suppressed psyche, but the part of the psyche that contains the richest creative potential and which we must embrace in order to be whole Selves.) This makes sense if you consider water as a source of fear for the Strangers, and in fact water’s central role in the imaginative life of John Murdoch.

One of the writers of Dark City, David S. Goyer, also worked on Batman Begins, in which the villains try to use the water which connects the people of Gotham to drive them mad. It’s almost like they’re trying to poison the Collective Unconscious!

No worries! I try not to go crazy with the Jungianism, in general. It can be, as von Franz admits, just a way of “replac[ing] one myth by another”. But you all know I love water – water in the ocean, water falling from the sky, water running headlong off a basalt bluff. It’s interesting to think what place this necessary element, this harbinger and nurturer of life, holds in our collective imagination. It’s beautiful how the tropes of old hold true in our modern myth-making.

Any other hydrophobic movie villains to add to my list? Other movies whose waterways make for interesting musing?


Just off the top of my head:

Any given Sleepy Hollow adaptation draws from the original folk tale power of running water.

Most invisible men are betrayed by water, take of that what you will. I could take the evil that grows inside them from being alienated from social interaction is counteracted by their own subconscious conscience. But I won’t.

And then there’s Tank Girl.

Does Hunt for Red October really traverse the depths of the human subconscious? Probably not. But a similar argument might be made for endless summer.

I would offer up Bridge to Terebethia, but I’ve never seen the movie & don’t really remember the book.

Ooo ooo! LotR!

And then there’s Tank Girl…

Looking back, all of these suggestions (excluding Endless Summer, which was a throwaway anyway) are movie adoptions, not original stories. I’m not sure if this says something about my memory, my film preferences, or the tendencies of novelists to be more allegorical than screenwriters. Probably all of the above.

Then there’s attacks from water, like Jaws, or Godzilla. But I’m going to stop the musings now.

One that comes to my mind is Unbreakable. In an interesting twist, it is the otherwise impervious hero figure who is vulnerable to water. In fact, Shyamalan seems to enjoy toying with water symbolism in general – Signs, Unbreakable, Lady in the Water – it’s everywhere. My notoriously bad memory for stories means the details are a bit murky for me to speculate on where he’s going with it all, but I’m sure it’s fascinating.

Dear EMeta,

I admit it, despite my love for Lori Petty, I have not seen Tank Girl. So your post has a ribbon of mystery.

Re: books. Yesterday I noticed that I’d tagged Pam Houston’s shnovel Waltzing the Cat ‘drowning’, and paused to consider how much of that book (which makes the love-finding anxieties of a 30-ish straight woman interesting again by overlaying them on a white-water, hang-gliding, hurricane-skirting lifestyle) involves danger by water. Eenteresting.

You bring up an excellent point, TK. I haven’t seen Lady in the Water, but given the films of his I have seen, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if MNS digs the Jungian archetypes.

At the very least, it should be interesting to keep a watch on his films, and those with David S. Goyer on the story/writing credit and see whether this crops up again.

Here’s a little section I loved in Waltzing the Cat:

"’For the people of my country,’ Renato said, ‘water is everything: love, life, religion…even God.’

‘It is like that for me too,’ I said. ‘In English we call that a metaphor.’

‘Of course,’ said Renato, ‘and water is the most abundant metaphor on earth.’"
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