It was a love–a love that blossomed between a mortal man and a mythical female nature spirit. Can love be so powerful as to transcend the veil–the veil that separates the world of humans from the world of non-humans? Is this a love that does indeed exist or is this a love that only ever exists in the human imagination?
From the Ghost Brides of Chinese culture to the Selkies of Celtic Folklore, the human imagination has contemplated and explored the possibility that love–no matter how forbidden or how tragic–can blossom between the mortal and the mythical.
Earlier tonight, I watched Big Fish & Begonia for the first time. My wife said that she tried watching it a couple of years back, but couldn’t get into it. This time, though, we were both equally engrossed. When I first turned it on on Netflix, I thought it would be a Japanese animation and was pleasantly surprised when I heard Mandarin being spoken as the movie kickstarted.
The film is set in the realm of The Others, a parallel dimension inhabited by nature spirits which control the seasons and tides on Earth. It is also a realm where the souls of humans go after they pass away. The good ones are reborn as dolphins and the evil ones as rats. Travel between the two worlds can be accomplished via whirlpool portals which either appear or can be opened under certain circumstances.
When young people of The Others come of age, they use these portals to enter the human world disguised as red dolphins. They are instructed to observe and experience the laws of nature without making any contact with humans. They must return back home seven days later.
At the crux of any good story are rules. Rules that are ignored, forsaken and broken. We defy nature’s laws and we are forced to pay a terrible price. In the story, teenage girl Chun sees a young fisherman during her journey on earth. Struck by Cupid’s proverbial arrow, she is filled with a sense of curiosity and falls in love at first sight. Just as Chun prepares to head back home, she gets caught in a net and the boy jumps into the water to save her. He manages to untangle her but winds up drowning in the process.
At the heart of every great love story, there is tragedy–some unfathomable reason that dictates that the blossoming love should not exist and must be ceased at once. The lovestruck couple, however, is willing to go through all and any odds to overcome the obstacles in their path–be it a strict parent or in this movie’s case, being of human and mythical origin.
Tragedy, as a genre of drama, is based on human suffering and the terrible or sorrowful events that befall a main character. Traditionally, the intention of tragedy is to invoke an accompanying catharsis–a terrible pain that awakens our capacity for pleasure.
Whenever I watch movies such as this one, I am struck by the sensation that there is some strange sense of destiny that brings tragic lovers together; and it is that same sense of destiny that tears them apart. They usually meet under difficult circumstances so there’s no honeymoon phase; and from then on, the obstructions and obstacles only get bigger and heavier.
What is this ‘love’? What is this force of nature that brings two people together in such a compelling and dramatic way–only to tear them apart with that very same force?
In a world where marriage is a boring ordeal of work, getting married, buying a house, having kids and sending them to college–movies such as these remind us that love is so much more; that it can be so much more. It is not only an obligation and a feeling, but a quest and the experience of a lifetime.
My own personal curiosity has its roots in asking the question–why is a love that is destined to be so vehemently forbidden not to be? Why does it cause so much chaos? Why does it create storms of such epic proportions? Why does so much destruction ensue when two people who are destined to be together actually come together?
The purpose of the tragedy–the storm that leads to complete destruction–is to create irreversible change. Without this cathartic event, we would simply not change. It is why change must be thrust upon us. It is why we are thrust into the storm. Without the storm, we would have no rational reason to venture forth or to change our ways. It would be business as usual. We would remain who we have been and who we will be.
It would be a world where we do not love… and never find the courage to take a chance on it.