Blue My Mind is a coming-of-age tale about a young girl finding her tribe, exploring her sexuality, and becoming a mermaid. Gabe discusses trans identity, body dysmorphia, eating disorders and other explored teenage tragedies in this film. Kat shares their personal puberty journey while also diving into the dichotomous identity of the Mermaid-Miranda.
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Blue My Mind (2018)
A seemingly normal teenage girl faces overwhelming body transformations that put her existence into question.
Director Lisa Brühlmann
Blue My Mind: Body-Horror Growing Pains for Mermaids
by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Blue My Mind is a typical coming-of-age story about a young girl who tries to find her tribe. She dabbles in shoplifting, she kisses boys and girls, and she feels so different that she questions whether or not she may be adopted. Parents just don’t understand. Except, her parents really don’t because these aren’t your typical growing pains that Mia is going through, no these are a bit more aquatic in nature. Mia is slowly becoming a mermaid. This transformation includes gills, a tail, and a hankering for raw fish. Ew.
This film reminded me a bit of the coming-of-age film starring Evan Rachel Wood, Thirteen. That film really shook me as a young girl. I identified with Evan’s character who was an outsider, became incredibly close and fixated on another girl, and tried questionable/dangerous things to fit in. I don’t know if Mia’s story would be as impactful to young girls as Thirteen was but it features a lot of those same tropes. Mia is a new girl at school and she is looking to belong. She falls into a clique of “cool” girls who talk about giving their boyfriends blowjobs, play choking games, and skip school to drink wine coolers. Mia fits in pretty well and she even begins to grow close with one of the girls, Gianna who is the epitome of cool girl. Mia and Gianna share a kiss, more than a few lingering stares, and endure through some dangerous situations.
This film features some truly uncomfortable and horrifying things. Some being the special FX of Mia’s transformation such as her gills or when she tried to cut the skin between her toes that had begun to web. Other horror is more situational, such as young Mia meeting with an older man from a dating app at a hotel. It’s uncomfortable and terrifying, and it’s only one of many scenes just like this. Each piece of her transformation feels like a representation for something bigger, for a challenge young and growing girls work to overcome. In an article on Variety titled, 'Blue My Mind' Review: Promising Coming Of Age Body-Horror Debut by Jessica Kiang, they explain this dichotomous monstrous transformation that mirrors real-world challenges for young girls. From her impulsive eating of the pet fish, She gulps down a glass of salt water (a trick bulimia sufferers use to induce vomiting)(think Melanie Martinez’ Orange Juice); she lashes out at her mother with a physical force that she doesn’t seem to know she has; she develops a sudden awareness of a physical abnormality that her doctor insists she must have had since birth (giving body dysmorphia), and cuts away at herself in a way that explicitly evokes self-harm. Mia clearly feels like an alien in her own skin. She fights to remove the abnormalities, the changes in her body that set her apart from the image of girl she is trying to perform. She hides these changes and concerns from Gianna in fear of rejection.
Beyond the horrors of the mermaid transformation, we have a young girl who is struggling to figure out who she is. She clearly gets no love and support at home. She is abusive towards her mother and uncaring towards her father. While both of them treat her like a stranger in her own home or at other times, like a lion in a cage. The only moments she gets to truly explore herself are the soft, intimate and quiet moments with Gianna. When the other girls are gone, just the two of them, they can confide in one another. They swap childhood trauma which helps to shape their current actions and needs for attention. But even that relationship isn’t enough. Mia continues to hide her changing body and concerns from Gianna and instead lashes out at the world by putting her own body at risk. In a truly harrowing, unsettling, and stomach turning scene that we quite honestly could’ve done without, Mia finds herself at an adult party full of predatory men. In her attempt to feel something, to have and simultaneously release control, she falls into their hands and is sexually assaulted by many men at once. Saved by Gianna, this spurs her even further into her depression and misery resulting in a final transformation that leaves Mia with an enormous mermaid tail and flooded apartment.
In that same article by Kiang, they express disappointment in the ending of a film that for a bulk of its running time had some promise. The demons of adolescence that so much of the imagery evokes are powerful and dangerous because they are imaginary. Anorexia, negative body image, self-harm, and the joyless promiscuity and sexual degradation that Mia pursues are the kinds of heartbreaking punishments that young girls inflict on their bodies for differing, in ways that often only they perceive, from some notional ideal of womanly perfection. Everybody feels like a freak at this age and it doesn’t seem an especially helpful conclusion to have the story confirm that freakishness, and to suggest that the solution for Mia is self-imposed exile from the people who, however distractedly, love her. Having created a striking and potent allegory in Blue My Mind, and explored it with grace, seriousness, and exceptional craft, Brühlmann doesn’t seem to know quite what to do with it by the end, except to suggest that the cost of self-acceptance is vast, eternal, oceanic loneliness. For all the metaphors and grappling sexuality, body image, and identity, it left me terribly upset in the end. I found myself asking what we’re to learn from this film. Where The Lure left us with a cautionary tale of love, Blue My Mind left us with melancholic resignation. When Mia decides to enter the sea, to simply run away, she teaches us that if we are different, the only answer is to be outcasts. No one can love us this way, we can’t even give them the chance.
Personal Puberty Experiences & the Mermaid-Miranda
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Thoughts on Film
This film surprised me in that I didn’t think I would be especially excited about it. I ended up enjoying it more than expected, outside of the uncomfortable assault scene that didn’t need to be included. What really resonated with me about this film was the horrific way puberty and neglect intertwined that I haven’t seen in many other films thus far. The parents were just entirely unpresent outside of seeking to discipline their child, and while there was clearly some level of love there based on the ending, there was just such a disconnect in understanding. I think the understanding disconnect is what felt really powerful to me in the story telling, in that you could really feel the fear that came with that disconnect, and ultimately how that fear translated to our protagonist making pretty dangerous decisions. Also middle/high school is just really a hard time to uproot a kid, so their actions felt real, raw and stressful. The lack of communication surrounding the changes they were going through also felt so familiar, as I experienced something very similar…I received a sentence “did you learn about it at school?” “Yes” “Do you have any questions?” “No.” And it was never talked about again, outside of somewhat random comments of “Don’t get pregnant in high school.” to which I was like “I don’t even know what would go into that, or how that happens, so like I think we’re cool and I won’t”. I related very heavily to the ambiguity surrounding whether or not their experience was normal and instead of talking about how they felt or what they were experiencing, they were so scared of not being seen as “normal” that they tried to handle it however they could, which more often than not ended up resulting in them physically and mentally hurting themselves.
This is probably too much information about my childhood that may be better suited for like future therapy sessions but we need to fill time so while I didn’t transform into a mermaid during puberty, I think I handled it pretty similarly to how Mia did in the film, the main difference being that I failed so hard at rebelling because I was just very much not a “cool” kid. I got all the lack of understanding from others as well as myself, and lack of autonomy surrounding my identity, and that definitely fueled so much of my teen angst. I didn’t get to be cool though like our main character does, cause I just really didn’t understand social cues, so my rebellious phase was pretty lackluster in comparison. I mostly just did really questionable things in AOL chat rooms and wrote way too honest xenga and myspace statuses. Also I stayed in the same town my entire schooling experience, so when I hit puberty I didn’t just get to reinvent myself…all the kids I was interacting with still had a very clear memory of me pretending to be Donny from the Wild Thornberrys for a large chunk of elementary school, so yeah…Like Mia, I didn’t know how to explain myself when it came to my puberty experience, as well as just my general life experience. I also thought I was adopted for a while in that my parents and I were just very different…and we didn’t understand each other at all, which like good news, it’s a little better now so yay. But, whenever I was going through a thing, like Mia, I just tried to “handle it” until doctors had to get involved, and honestly they were also about as helpful as the people in this film. So yeah I felt an alien, or like something from somewhere else, a mermaid of sorts and like now I realize that was largely me just being an undiagnosed autistic person, but at the time it was much like I’m from somewhere else, a monster or something and one day I’ll just return to wherever i’m supposed to be instead, and this will just like not be real. Spoilers about my life, I didn’t get to go into the ocean…I just stayed soo… but the good part is I like what I’ve patchworked together in terms of a life, so little victories. Ultimately, all that to say, I related to this film. …ANYWAY…The duality of the Monstrous Feminine Mermaid, in being a representation of denying societal standards and expectations, as well as the embrace of those expectations is pretty interesting.
The mermaid as a monsterous femme is complex as it has been represented in vastly different ways across various media. The mermaid has been portrayed as an embodiment of sexual freedom and allure, monsterous violence, defiance of the patriarchy and on the opposite end, purity and nievity as well as living up to patriarchal standards/expectations. Gabe found this article for me that outlined how this transition took place in comparing the tales of the Mermaid to the Miranda from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Now I haven’t read the Tempest but I did some reading about the play and found No Sweat Shakespeare which describes Miranda’s character as “a living representation of female virtue. She is typically viewed as having internalized the patriarchal order of things and sees herself as subordinate to her father. She is kind and loving and compassionate in addition to being obedient to her father and is seen as “perfect and fearless, created of every creature’s best.” With this understanding that Miranda is a representation of the patriarchal view of the ideal woman, she exists as a stark contrast to what the mermaid has represented. The lore surrounding mermaids, largely positioned them as a threat to humans that ventured into unfamiliar waters, as well as sexually agressive and autonomous creatures that represented power and freedom, in many ways existing as a threat to patriarchal values instead of a reinforcement of them. In the past two decades however, the view of the mermaid has transitioned into something else, significantly less monstrous and more concerning.Tying this back to the article Gabe shared with me, their entire argument follows this idea.
In a paper titled Of Tails and Tempests: Feminine Sexuality and Shakespearean Children's Texts by Erica Hateley of Monash University, they say “If mermaids have long represented the competition between sexuality and spirituality within the feminine, Mirandas have represented the competition between autonomy and familial obligation.” While they have previously existed as opposites, in the last two decades these two characters have merged to produce a “Mermaid-Miranda” figure, specifically in children’s texts. Seemingly with the goal of emulating behavioral ideals for young girls, using the Mermaid-Miranda as a model, that conveys their obligation. They go on to say “The ambiguities legible in both the mermaid- and Miranda-figures are potentially challenging to patriarchal culture in that the mermaid traditionally represents a model of autonomous and devouring feminine sexuality, and Miranda's use-value for social cohesion is only as great as her willingness to adhere to the roles of daughter and wife that are offered to her. As the nineteenth-century project of domesticating mermaids and Mirandas developed, they moved from signifying the task of a male protagonist's sexual/social development into being subjects themselves. However, in the move from the margins to the center — or from ocean to land — that ambiguity has been systematically erased, producing points of identification for the contemporary juvenile female reader that are emphatically chaste or asexual, except within the confines of hetero-normative marriage. The contemporary mermaid-Miranda's "task" is to resolve her sexuality into either absence or regulated presence. By extension, the implied girl reader is socialized into a self-regulating identity that is subordinated to patriarchal models of sexuality, models that Shakespeare himself then seems to authorize.” If we view this with the lens the Ghouls always do, in that media is created with the purpose of conveying a message, the intention behind this narrative makes a lot of sense. Especially when being used in children’s literature, as writing for children is often done with the purpose of instilling value systems.
According to Hateley the use of the Mermaid-Miranda has transformed the Mermaid from the monstrous feminine to a reinforcer of patriarchal values through Disney's the Little Mermaid, and Penni Russon's Undine (2004). “Given these contradictions, it is unsurprising that nineteenth-century writers began producing mermaids for children, especially girl readers, who themselves were made the sites of contradictory codings of sexuality and chastity, knowledge and innocence, the future virginal-maternal…The domestication of Miranda follows a comparable logical trajectory, for if Prospero was the nineteenth century's "ideally wise and protective father" (Bottoms 2004, 10), Miranda became the nineteenth century's ideally chaste, but potentially sexual daughter. The storm that gives the play its name is, like the mermaid's tail, both present and absent: it has a seeming reality, yet can have no effect beyond Prospero's intention. So too, must the sexuality of Miranda (and the adolescent girl) be present, but inactive outside socio-familial structures.” The result being, the message being directed at young girls is problematic, and somewhat unsurprising in terms of the ideals we see represented in children’s media in general. Specifically Disney, who until recently pushed child brides as a narrative pretty regularly. The monstrous Mermaid sanitized to operate as a tool of the patriarchy instead of a fighter against it, which is not the “taking it back” we like to see.
If anything I would have enjoyed seeing Mia be a bit more monstrous as a way of taking back some strength in this film. Instead of just eating random fish, it would have been cool if she ate the predatory men that she interacted with. I still really liked this film, and thought it was a fun and accurate portrayal of the horrors of puberty, as well as an accurate representation of how young girls are sexualized in horrific ways by society. It did a good job with that narrative in some ways, and failed in others.