The Shallows and the Hero's Journey
Read our full review of the film here.
- The Ordinary World / Call to Adventure: The film picks up immediately combining the first few steps of the journey. Nancy has lost her mother to cancer after a long struggle (we learn this from pictures and later - more heavy handedly - from a dispute she has with her father via Facetime chat) and has traveled away from home to find the beach her mother once visited. She’s trying to figure out her life and decide whether or not it’s worth it to return to medical school. In the larger scheme of things, one could argue that med school is Nancy’s lifelong call to adventure, and her running away to the island is a refusal of that call - a cycle within the larger cycle.
- Crossing the Threshold into the New World: Nancy finally enters the water with her surf board to enjoy the picturesque paradise of the island.
- Tests and Allies: The shark attacks. Nancy must escape the shark, find shelter on a rock, and patch herself up. While the Shark waits patiently, Nancy tries reaching out to a number of passersby, only to realize they cannot help. She befriends a wounded seagull who waits with her on the rock and alerts her to changing circumstances.
- The Ordeal: Dehydrated, fatigued, and wounded, Nancy must swim to the buoy 40 yards away before her rock gets swallowed by the high tide and leaves her defenseless to the shark. She must find in herself the will the fight and survive regardless of probability.
- Reward: Nancy secures a will to survive, a confidence she lacked at the story’s start.
- The Road Back: Nancy isn’t out of the fire - or water, in this case - yet. She must still defeat her pursuer to get back to shore. She does so in a last ditch gambit that requires her to be pulled to the ocean floor. This hearkens to the epic poetry tradition of heroes having to visit an underworld of some kind to secure some resource critical to accomplishing their missions.
- Resurrection: Nancy washes ashore unconscious and half drowned to be resuscitated by local Carlos.
- New Life and Return: A year later, Nancy is a graduate of med school and surfing with her sister. She returned from her ordeal scarred, but also with a new sense of purpose and healthier perspective on her mother’s death.