Deep Blue Sea appreciates nature’s preeminent design-the shark.
R | 105min | 1999 | (USA) | Renny Harlin
Let’s get the meat and potatos out of the way: Imdb aptly describes the film as: “Searching for a cure to Alzheimer’s disease a group of scientists on an isolated research facility become the bait as a trio of intelligent sharks fight back.” Deep Blue Sea certainly packs a punch with its special effects, animatronics, and plot twists. Without giving away spoilers, I have to concede that this film certainly has my personal favorite death scene of all time to date. Similar to so many of the pets on my top ten horrific pets list these sharks only become killers once man meddles in matters of nature, or more specifically with God’s perfect design.
Deep Blue Sea suggests that sharks are quite infallible by design. During a discussion between scientists they mention that sharks are the oldest and most efficient creatures on the planet they never get cancer, go blind, or show loss of brain functioning. In the mind of lead scientist Dr. McCallister (Saffron Burrows) this is what makes them the perfect candidate for her intrusive and unethical scientific practices.
Unlike so many shark films, Deep Blue Sea uses mako sharks rather than defaulting to the great white shark. This is an interesting choice as the mako is the fastest of the shark species and has a broader domain than the great white. At first glance this film seems quite similar to the typical man vs. beast narrative so common to horror films involving animals. It even shares the cautionary tales about man meddling with nature.[i] However, it diverges in its treatment of the shark. This is not a ruthless killer but rather one of nature’s perfect productions marred by the interference of man.
There is much mention of man’s poor treatment of sharks. For example, in the film there are several negative references to makos being in cages. This is doubly interesting because makos are among the poorest survivors in captivity. Back on topic…upon visiting Aquatica, Russell (Samuel L. Jackson) likens the lab to a floating Alcatraz. Similarly, the only character that seems to understand the sharks as well as empathizes with them is Carter (Thomas Jane) who has himself spent time in prison. Carter’s connection helps him solve the riddle about what an 8000 pound shark dreams about and it is, quite simply, freedom in the deep blue sea. Through this parallel the audience is positioned to sympathize with sharks for being both caged and prejudged. It is worth mentioning that makos are amongst many sharks demonized by man. Often sharks are prejudged as killers, hunted for sport, mounted lifeless on walls, or tortured and left for dead in order to make shark fin soup. While the intervention of scientists and conservationists like Chatham Shark Center has had positive influences, it continues to be an uphill battle to combat man’s treatment of sharks. [ii]
Deep Blue Sea positions the interference with sharks as a violation of God’s design. Upon viewing the sharks for the first time, Russell says “What in God’s creation?!” which is immediately followed by Dr. Whitlock saying “…not His…ours.” Mid-film, Russell again insinuates the malevolent intervention of the scientists with, “What in the Hell did you do to those sharks.” Further into the film, Carter shares his disgust with Dr. McCallister’s interventions by saying, “What you’ve done is taken God’s oldest killing machine and given it will and desire. What you’ve done is knocked us to the bottom of the food chain. It’s not a great leap forward in my book.” Likewise, Dr. McCallister is quickly corrected when she mistakenly calls the shark “just an animal,” which suggests that the shark is on a higher plane than “animals.” Furthermore, when Carter calls the shark the oldest creation, it repositions the shark as possibly the premier, time-tested animal, maybe even better than man.
The role of God is enacted through Preacher (LL Cool J). He offers prayer, Bible verses, theories of relativity, and weighs in on making the perfect omelet (a truly heavenly thing). The fact that God factors so prominently in the film suggests an emphasis on the sharks being something of a higher power. In fact, it also positions the shark as more innocent than man. Indeed these sharks had to be dealt with but only because, like Eve in the Garden of Eden, the sharks were tainted by a malicious force. Through unethical scientific practices, the sharks became evil and were remedied with the intervention of God (or Preacher at least), “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil. For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. Because I carry a big stick and I’m the meanest mother f*cker in the valley! Two sharks down, Lord! One demon fish to go! Can I get an Amen?” To take this one step further, the physical intervention of the Lord helps Preacher escape from the shark as he stabs the final shark with his crucifix to break free from the demon shark’s jaws.
One cannot overlook the emphasis on God in this film. However, it is much too simplistic to dismiss this theme as the writer or director’s personal affiliation. I suggest that the manifestation of God through Preacher, the prevalence of the crucifix, and the abundant references to God suggest that the shark itself is one of nature’s preeminent designs and thus something that demands reverence. This point is driven home by the film’s ending (spoiler alert) as the sympathetic hero Carter couples with Preacher rather than a scientist. Finally, this leads me to believe that nature trumps science and that Deep Blue Sea partakes in a special appreciation for sharks that not many horror films share.
[i] “There’s a little perfunctory scientist-bashing, but not much (the Burrows character violates ethical guidelines, but, hey, it’s for a good cause–fighting Alzheimer’s).” http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/deep-blue-sea-1999