14 January 2010

Creature from the Black Lagoon

Creature from the Black Lagoon was one of the first real monster movies I remember seeing. Even during the long cold years when I couldn’t appreciate any other black and white film, for some reason Creature stayed with me. On the surface, the Creature story is about the fear that modern science is still somehow inadequate to meet the challenges revealed by its own discoveries. We're smart, but still profoundly impotent in the face of the natural cosmos. Some might suggest that this challenge comes specifically from nature itself, the unexplained biological processes of life. Or it might be science itself that poses a challenge, because our ability to generate useful answers is insufficient to keep pace with the reach of our minds.

The prologue of the film certainly supports such conclusions. In any case those conclusions aren't wrong nor are they necessarily right, I just think that they over emphasize external causes. Any film is open to multiple interpretations depending on one’s personal experiences. That's why I see Creature as something above and beyond those explanations. I identify with the Gillman because I see him as a facet of my own personality. For me Creature from the Black Lagoon is a story of man vs. himself.

First, and simplest of all, you can hardly blame the Gillman for feeling covetous of Kay (Julie Adams), she is rightfully the center of attention of the entire film. The Gillman hasn't seen a Gillwoman in millennia, but beyond the obvious biological urges, she's also undeniably beautiful and, though the Gillman probably doesn't know it, intelligent. She’s not just desirable to him, but to all of us, but he can't have her. As I see it this is not because he's a different species, but because he doesn't fit within the status quo. Modernity is only one aspect of his ostracism. Metaphorically speaking here, he hasn't mastered the outward modes of acceptable behavior, he's not civilized. More specifically he represents the ill mannered, unrefined element of our society and our individual personalities. And more simply, he's the weird kid at school, the one that nobody likes because he's "socially awkward." We are all glad we’re not him, and a little bit scared that we might become, or once were him. We’re scared that he lingers inside us. He doesn’t have any friends, he never gets the girl, so we can understand but remain wary of his loneliness, and at least in my case, sympathize with him.

Even if that wasn't you, you can still get a taste because as you'll recall I didn't say man vs. the weird kid, but man vs. himself. We're all implicated in this because ultimately it is about our own inner desires as portrayed by the Gillman. He is our Id. The dueling protagonists of Creature, Mark and David, in fact all the scientists in all three films spend their screen time acting rationally and "analyzing" the Gillman one minute, and schmoozing up with the female lead the next. Their dichotomous personalities are indicative of our own struggle to behave rationally and respectably while simultaneously harboring unpredictable biological drives. They are man’s competing visions of himself as civilized and his fear of his baser animal nature represented by the Gillman. Evolution is perhaps less something that man embraces, than something he fetishizes. Modernity and civilization, we would like to think, give us victory over our primitive condition. But the reality is far less heroic.

Whether we like it or not as we strive to be composed and act evolved, the Gillman resides within, reminding us that we are still animals. He is our social discomfort and our longing to fit in. We are the Black Lagoon, and he is just the simple instinct we try and control to maintain the façade of manners. He is everything the modern human mind has sought and struggled to convince us that we no longer are.

I love the Creature films, and I love posters, so this post is all about both, above are a French poster and an Argentine poster. All the ones above are American.

An LP of the soundtrack, and "other Jungle pictures". Even though I'm ambivalent about pinball, I wouldn't mind playing the Creature Pinball once or twice.

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