Fish, Fish, I Got My Subconscious Wish

Piranha 3D (2010, d. Alexandre Aja)

And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace. -Genesis 19:28


Spring break at Lake Victoria is a retreat for young people who worship water, sun, and public self-indulgence. But nature has pronounced judgment on this debauchery; a plague of thousands of man eating fish; piranha with teeth like jackals.  Survival or death is gauged largely by one’s moral rectitude.  Jake is a good, local kid who serves as a surrogate parent for his little brother and sister while his mother, the town sheriff, is out busting bad-boys.  Jake isn’t as muscular or cocky as the big knuckleheads who party all day at the beach.  When Jake naively gets hired away from babysitting to chaperone a pornographic film crew on a boat cruise, he doesn’t know that the piranha are coming for he and the girl he likes, and for his family too.  Confronted with temptations of money, drugs, and underwater lesbians, Jake is spared the grizzly, ichthyologic death of his peers by choosing family over fantasy.

This is a seeming twist on a popular theory in horror film criticism, that of the “last surviving girl” as proposed by Carol

"Men Women and Chainsaws"

Clover in her book “Men Women and Chainsaws.”  Through most of Piranha, Jake is the unguided but innocent victim of monsters.  The monsters aren’t just the prehistoric, blood-thirsty fish.  Jake is victim of the macho beach bullies, the sleazy porn producer, his masculinized and absent mother (way out of her acceptable feminine role), and his adolescent sexual impulses.  But by denying these impulses, he survives to become the hero who reconstructs his family and kills all the evil fish.

The use of a male character as victim-hero is only a seeming innovation on the form. The preponderance of female nudity, male prowess, excessive gore, and history of the genre would still indicate a typical young male target audience.  But Jake isn’t like other boys at first.  He is initially effeminate, virginal, a baby-sitter.  In terms of male identification, Jake becomes a hero over this emasculation.  As the collective fantasy of a fully bacchanalian paradise at the beach is literally eaten to pieces in a horrific lake of blood, the audience has Jake, to teach male virtue, to overcome his Freudian father beating (the fish), and survive for an inevitable sequel.  Piranha plays like a Biblical size catastrophe.  The angels save Lot from the doom of the sinful citizens of Sodom.

Personally I don’t care for these kinds of movies so I have a slight objectivity problem.   To me they are just pointless, sadistic voyeurism from a safe vantage.  Despite all the nudity and sex the whole genre is repressed, sexually retarded, and culturally conservative in its stereotypes, conscious and unconscious.  Such films are little more than regurgitated mythology that allow viewers to experience forbidden desires and then displace their punishment onto morally simplistic characters.  Despite the apparent twist in gender roles, the real exercise of Piranha is to advise young males on their castration anxiety.  If you dip your penis in the bloody lake it will become bait.   It will get bitten off.  This is another Freudian complex demonstrated at one point  by a floating, three-dimensional, dismembered penis which gets eaten by the piranha.

In terms of pure filmmaking – the effects, the 3D, a pretty good cast – Piranha is the best made of this genre I can think of.  It’s definitely the grossest movie I’ve ever seen.  For blood and gore it’s the best of the worst.

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