The Lure is a phenomenal Polish horror musical featuring monstrous mermaids that want to be loved and also snack on the flesh of men. Gabe talks about the many layers of this artistic and catchy musical. How does this film better represent Hans Christen-Anderson's Little Mermaid? Also, Kat talks about real mermaids or rather the poor sea creatures men wanted to f*ck.
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The Lure (2015) Director: Agnieszka Smoczyńska
Summary by IMDB: In Warsaw, a pair of mermaid sisters are adopted into a cabaret. While one seeks love with humans the other hungers to dine on the human population of the city.
The Lure: These Polish Mermaids Will Eat Your Heart Out by Gabe Castro
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
One is Silver and the other is Gold(en). The Lure is the mermaid monster Polish horror musical you didn’t know you needed. I have tried to explain this film to a few people since I watched it and each time I fail to find the words. It sounds like I’m making it up. There are many layers to this beautiful, blue-tinted world Smoczynska creates but on the surface is a tale of two types of women - the lover and the monster. This genre-bending film features folklore, puberty, 70’s pop music, and incredible violence.
The idea started as a film about sisters growing up in a nightclub scene. It was based on writer Robert Bolesto’s friends whose parents worked in clubs. After being told the film was too personal, Agnieszka decided to weave in the Hans Christen-Anderson tale of the Little Mermaid. According to lore in Warsaw, there were two mermaid twin sisters. One decided to swim off to Copenhagen (this is the Little Mermaid we know about) and the other found her way to the little village that would become Warsaw.
As with most monstrous femme films, The Lure explores what it means to be a girl. The challenges that come with our growing bodies and their dichotomous nature - the grotesque and beautiful, the frightening and alluring, and, the vulnerability and power. In an article on Vice titled New 'Polish Cannibal Mermaid Musical' Is a Story About Immigration and Girlhood by Judy Berman, they interview Agnieszka about her influences and themes. "It's a visualization of the initiation [into womanhood]," Smoczyńska confirms. "Growing up is brutal, especially as a girl. It's like death. You can treat the whole story as a metaphor for growing up. On the physical side, you have this mucus, you have this blood, you have this fishtail. [The tail is] something you want to hide, but it's something that defines your youth. When you want to be loved by a boy—or by a human being—you lose yourself. You cut off your fishtail."
The film starts with the sirens in the ocean. Silver is interested in a boy singing on the beach. She and Golden sing back at him and make their way to shore. Next, we have a club owner investigate a fishy smell in his place of business. It leads him to discover the girls, childlike and full of joy dancing in the backroom. They are immediately stripped and revealed to be “like Barbies” completely smooth down there - no genitalia. However, when you splash some water on them, their tails grow back. On those tails, they have slits that men in this film just love touching. Yeah, I also vomited in my mouth a little. The tails are quite impressive and possibly my favorite part of the film. They are practical pieces that the actresses operated using a foot pedal in the tails. They spent weeks alone with Agnieszka to work through their emotions and to operate the tails. What does it feel like to be inhuman, to be a girl freshly in this man’s world?
Golden and Silver communicate using eerie dolphin-chirping telekinesis. In their covert communications, Golden explains they’re just visiting here before they make their way to America. She also warns Silver not to fall in love with a man, lest he marries another and turns her into seafoam. For any of us folklore nerds, that sounds an awful lot like Hans Christen-Anderson’s Little Mermaid who suffers a similar fate (even worse is that she becomes wind that must cool off men). With these two mermaids, we are given two distinct types of women. Silver wants to be human, who wants to belong here and to be loved by this boy. Golden who loves who she is, finds power in her fangs and sees humans as nothing more than a meal. I was immediately drawn to Golden. I never much liked Disney’s Little Mermaid. This idea that a young girl must change her entire being for a man to like her aggravated me. I had a whole argument with my family once because of the real story ending with Ariel as seafoam. They said I was “reading too much into it.” Even then, I always had my media-analysis glasses on.
In that Vice article, Agnieszka and the author, Berman explain that I was right in my feelings about the sisters. "Silver, the older one, is much more sensitive. She wants to be a human being," Smoczyńska explains. "Golden is the opposite—she wants to be a predator, and she wants to be who she [already] is." A wild girl who would never sacrifice her freedom to win the love of a human man, she is also a proud outsider with no intention of assimilating.
This is a musical after all, so I want to also touch on some of the amazing tracks. Like the film overall, the music is genre-bending from 70s disco to 80s rock n roll. But it’s not disorienting like with Repo! The Genetic Opera. It feels natural and performative. They are in a nightclub after all. We have an opening number where the girls are brought through the mall and are transformed into real girls. They sing, “The city will tell us what it is we lack!” and grow dizzy from performing/assimilating. My favorite song has Golden walking nude around their dingy apartment that they share with their fellow performers titled, The Housefly 1 where she sings, “I am sad. You are sad. We are all gloomy as hell.”
*Now entering Spoiler Town for The Lure*
Silver is in love with a boy. He seems to care for her too but won’t be with her. Silver saunters into a bathroom and splashes water on her revealing her tail. When he shakes his head she offers, “Did you want me to be a girl?” He tells her that he’ll never see her as more than a fish, an animal. So she does the most logical thing and decides to swap out her tail for real girl legs.
Alternately, Golden is living her best life. She’s at punk shows and she’s eating men who made the mistake of underestimating her, fancying her a snack for themselves. She finds a fellow sea creature, Titan who’s lacking his horns (one taken by a fisherman, the other removed himself) and he bears scars on his stomach that hint at a tail removal. He warns Golden, if Silver loses her tail - she’ll lose her voice. And if her love marries someone else, she will become seafoam.
In a jarring and emotional scene, Silver is laying on a bed of ice. Her large tail spread long, she is the catch of the day. Beside her is a woman, in half. She sings and Golden sings with her from home, begging her to not go through with it. But she does. As she sings, the surgeon cuts her center, blood splurts and her voice is cut-off. Later, she is flirting and showing off her new parts with her beau, only to try a bit too soon post-surgery (she still has staples and stitches, my friends, that is no bueno! She is even trying to learn how to walk, this is literally not the time). It results in a bloody mess and Mietek storms off and immediately into a pleasant human woman’s arms. And of course, he marries her.
Agnieszka explains that the film is also a story of immigrants. Of the pain of assimilation, confirming. Silver decides to become the model immigrant, sacrificing her autonomy, identity, and livelihood to gain acceptance in this new world. But even that isn't enough to make the bass player treat her like a real human being. For Smoczyńska, the parallel to real immigrants' lives is clear: "If you assimilate, you can lose yourself, and it will be very destructive to you."
For me, the tale reminded me of Lillith and Eve. I mentioned this in our She Never Dies episode. There are two types of women, an Eve and a Lillith - one is obedient, subordinate to men and the other, a monster, rebellious and independent. I don’t think Silver is any less of a woman for falling for Mietek. She is a young girl, impressionable and romantic. I’ve certainly been there.