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.
Mietek marries the girl and like the little mermaid, Silver is offered one more chance to survive. She must kill him before sunrise or she will be made seafoam. It feels obvious what you would choose. After all, he’s just a human. And as we often say on our show, humans are trash - men humans even more so oftentimes. Alas, she doesn’t instead having one last dance with him as the sun rises. Leaving Golden to avenge her and return to the sea.
Anderson wrote, “Her tender feet felt as if they were pierced by daggers, but she did not feel it. Her heart suffered far greater pain. She knew that this was the last evening that she ever would see him for whom she had forsaken her home and family, for whom she had sacrificed her lovely voice and suffered such constant torment, while he knew nothing of all these things. It was the last night that she would breathe the same air with him, or look upon deep waters or the star fields of the blue sky. A never-ending night, without thought and without dreams, awaited her who had no soul and could not get one. The merrymaking lasted long after midnight, yet she laughed and danced on despite the thought of death she carried in her heart.”
What Are Mermaids?: When Men Want to F*ck Fish
by Kat Kushin
RED: Quotes, someone else's words.
Hi, I’m Kat and I have had a really rough week and need to not feel sad today, so we’re gonna talk about what mermaids are, where the lore from them comes from, and why they are commonly described as man-eating. My fun theory for why the lore surrounding mermaids commonly supports man-eating is that men are trash, as people are trash and thus actively do things that make murdering and eating them necessary. I would also argue, as we know so little about the ocean, that the possibility of human-eating fish that possess powers to lure people to their deaths probably exists AND that the fear surrounding that possibility exists because we have a lot of fear surrounding the ocean and its’ ability to murder us. As we’ve only explored about 5%-10% of the earth’s oceans it is reasonable to assume there are many creatures that exist and do so outside of our conceivable imaginations.
I feel like I've seen a bunch of different interpretations for mermaids, and when I imagine them, I picture much more of a fish than a human-esque image. For me, I imagine they’re creatures of the midnight zone who have never seen sunlight, and that they somehow rise to the surface it’s horrifying glory to eat people. The teeth in this movie felt right to me. According to the Royal Museums Greenwich, “A mermaid or merman is a mythical sea-dwelling creature, often described as having the head and body of a human and a fish's tail below the waist. Stories of mermaids have existed for thousands of years and span cultures across the world - from coastal settlements in Ireland to the landlocked Karoo desert in South Africa.”
Why do stories of mermaids exist?
Like most things, it stems from human rationalization to understand why horrific things happen. It’s much easier to believe in a monster, than it is to understand that bad things can happen for no other reason than they were designed to exist that way. We do not have gills or fins, so the ocean is a territory we were not meant to survive. As a result, when we go into the ocean, it is more likely than not that something bad can and will happen to us. Since some humans think they are the most amazing and powerful creature ever to be imagined, and claim to have no “natural predators”, ignoring the fact the planet is literally alive(THE OCEAN ITSELF IS A PREDATOR THAT CAN KILL US) they create monsters to fill in blanks that they can’t explain, or monsterize innocent sea mammals for protecting their territory that we had no business existing in. Mermaid and Siren lore exists across many human cultures, and have different meanings. There are some cultures that use the lore as a way of respecting the ocean, and as a tool to build empathy for sea creatures. Mermaids have been used as a way to explain both the destructive nature of the ocean, as well as storms, but can also be a way to respect the life within the ocean that has existed outside the scope of our understanding.
Scientists believe that at least our western understanding of mermaids and sometimes sirens are actually more likely to be dugongs and manatees. Since Manatees nurse their young above water and similarly to humans it seems that is largely where the confusion came from.
A really fun article from Wired titled “Fantastically Wrong: The Murderous, Sometimes Sexy History of the Mermaid” written by Matt Simon outlines some of the common mermaid misconceptions. According to the article, in the mid-16th century the French naturalist Guillaume Rondelet found two creatures that he compared to monks and bishops. The Encyclopaedia Metropolitana of 1817 describes the supposed “sea monk” accordingly: “The face was human, but coarse and clownish, the head smooth and without hair, a sort of hood resembling that of a monk covered the shoulders,” while its “lower parts ended in a spreading tail.” The “bishop fish” was “yet more wonderful, being clad by nature in the garb of a bishop.” It was taken to the king of Poland, who in his benevolence decreed it be carried back to the ocean and set free. I don’t know about you but that sounds A LOT like the description of a manatee to me. The article goes on to discuss that once men with big boats left to explore the ocean, thus resulted in many more mermaid sightings.
“But out at sea, the number of mermaid sightings exploded as the Age of Discovery kicked off, as men in big, expensive boats made their way around the world. John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, caught sight of one off of Newfoundland in 1614, noting that "her long green hair imparted to her an original character that was by no means unattractive." Likely just a manatee or dugong with seaweed on its head. One of my main theories on this is that these men all needed glasses. The article goes on to note that in 1493, between wanton murdering and genocide, Christopher Columbus claimed to see a mermaid near what is now the Dominican Republic. As Columbus wrote in his diary: “The day before, when the Admiral was going to the Rio del Oro, he said he saw three mermaids who came quite high out of the water but were not as pretty as they are depicted, for somehow in the face they look like men.”
Simon goes on to explain that the admiral likely saw a Manatee, and what Smith saw was anyone's guess as Manatees didn’t go that far north. In fact most of the myths of mermaid and siren sightings stemmed from dugongs, also known as the Sea cow or sirenian, which humans drove to extinction by the 19th century. They were very large at 33 ft long and 24000 pounds. The theory is that since they swam along the former Syrian and Babylonian empires, that they likely inspired the tales of half-human/half-fish creatures.