Why Do We Fear Death?

O’ Death, O’ Death, won’t you spare me over ’til another year?

John Cygan as Silas Greaves (Call of Juarez: Gunslinger – 2013)

Humans have coping mechanisms for pretty much everything. When it comes to traumatic experiences, these coping mechanisms can unfortunately prove to be counterproductive. For most of us, we are rarely ever prepared when someone we love passes away. The human brain will do anything in its power to avoid sadness. One example of this phenomena is upon the event of the death of someone you love, or even after a breakup.

I have never experienced this myself, as when I did experience a death in my family, I was too young at the time to comprehend what actually happened. However, I have experienced situations where my selfish desires to ignore my pain ended up only pushing people away who only wanted to help me. Often times, when we go through something that hurts us, we will do anything we can to stop ourselves from feeling that pain. Sadly, there’s nothing we can do to change the flow of time, and there’s nothing we can do to stop death from occurring. Some films have used this philosophy in their story, to great success.

The Life of Death, The Shallows, and Triangle all tell similar tales of individuals unwilling to accept the truth, and how they find that truth by letting go of the pain that is plaguing them.

The Life of Death

In this film, our main character isn’t an animal, but Death himself. We see Death follow a number of different animals. When he tries to interact with them, they die instantly. Death never fully considered the impact of his actions until he meets an elegant deer, whom he falls in love with. Unfortunately however, this happiness is short-lived, as it becomes clear that this relationship just won’t work given the circumstances.

Yet, even when the deer knows what’s going to happen, she still reciprocates that love even when she knows that by doing so, she will meet her end.

Death and his new love meet in a short embrace, then she falls to the floor at his feet, totally deceased.

It is a beautiful representation of the harsh truth of our short existence. Death is something we cannot control. It is an inevitable consequence of existence that every living being must go through. Death is only scary because we don’t understand it. Some people have gone as far to say that entire religions were developed, purely to stow this common fear by hinting at the possibility of an afterlife.

When we don’t understand something, we try to rationalize it. This, however, is something that can’t be rationalized. Every single one of us is going to die at some point. The only way to fight something that you can’t understand, is to embrace it for what it is, and accept that you are never going to understand it.

This could even be compared to Pi’s adventures with Richard Parker in Life of Pi. He learned that atheism was something that he needed to embrace. Pi knew that the only way to give to God every last drop of his faith, was to believe in him in the absence of evidence. To let your guard down and allow yourself to be vulnerable in the face of darkness and nothingness is true bravery.

The only way you can come to terms with death, is to respond with love, just like any other part of your life. Death is a part of life, YOUR life. If you want to love yourself, then you’ll embrace every step of your journey just as much as the last.

The Shallows

After a recent re-watch, I definitely feel that I was a little too harsh on this film the first time around. Yes, the exposition was incredibly rocky, the film re-used many of the same tricks, and some of the dialogue was cringe-worthy, but despite all of this the film managed to retain some intelligence and enjoy-ability. Although some of the themes presented in the film can seem forced through dialogue, at the very least, we can say that it works.

Nancy, our main character, is a former med student who has lost her mother. Instead of taking the time to grieve with her family, she aims to ignore her pain through the adrenaline rush of surfing. After she becomes a victim of a shark attack, she quickly realizes the consequences of her decision making.

Often times when we experience grief, we may try and cope by seeking external sources of comfort and gratification. For Nancy, the pain from her loss proved to be too much for her and she didn’t want to accept that her mother was really gone. So to cope with this grief, she hoped that the short term adrenaline rush from surfing would keep her mind occupied. Of course, not everyone copes through surfing. Another example would be an alcoholic hoping that he can use alcohol to remedy the pain of a breakup, or the loss of a loved one.

When Nancy arrives on the beach and catches her first wave, the calm tone of the film skyrockets to an adrenaline ride. We hear charged and energized techno music, as Nancy rides the wave and crashes back into the water over and over again. When she returns to the shore, the music stops immediately and we are met with an uncomfortable phone call with her father and sister.

To be honest, although this is not the best choice, it’s also not the worst. The awkward dialogue actually helps in this situation, because like Nancy, it makes us feel uncomfortable and we just want it to stop so we can return to the adrenaline ride we came here for. She hangs up on her father without warning because her family only reminds her of her pain, so she hopes that by distancing herself she can run away from that trauma. This is reflected when her father says “when will you come back?”, implying that she’s been away from home for an extended period of time. When you try to distance yourself from pain instead of letting yourself grieve, you only push people out of your life who are going through the same pain, who are only trying to help you.

The Attack

When she gets back into the water, things have changed. She tries to have fun, but as the film shows us, there is now a rotting whale carcass present in the water, and the color pallet of the film has changed to dark colors to accompany the sinister tone. Despite this huge red flag that she should leave the water, as she could be trespassing on a predator’s territory, she continues surfing anyway. Nancy’s mood has changed completely, as she is no longer able to enjoy herself. Even with this discomfort accompanying her, she still continues to surf.

When we travel through the five stages of grief, our coping mechanisms will start to deteriorate, and our ability to ignore our pain will begin to degrade. However, these coping mechanisms have proved to work in the past, so we’ll keep relying on them to run away from our problems. When we’re presented with red flags, we’re either blind to them, or will refuse to acknowledge their presence. Even when our reliance on external sources of comfort prove to be harmful even from our eyes, we still rely on them because just the mere suggestion of moving on can seem to be excruciating, much like an alcoholic building a tolerance to alcohol, but still continuing to drink.

When she is finally attacked, she rushes over to a small island in the middle of the water and has to tend to her bite wound and her mental anguish all alone. When you run away from your problems, you push people away and make it more difficult for yourself to tend to your suffering. People who have tried to comfort you in the past will not take your current cries for help seriously, as when they did try and help you, they were met with hostility.

Patching up a shark bite by yourself would be excruciatingly painful, but she must do it to save her life. It is going to be just as painful when you have to let go, but it is just something that you need to do, as this person is never coming back.


Spoiler Warning

So, unfortunately, the only way I can discuss this film involves the inclusion of spoilers. The magic of the film partially relies on the mystery of what’s going on, and for a first-time viewing, it’s a wild ride, so I highly recommend you go watch the film, then come back here. If you’re confused as to the meaning of the film after your first viewing, this post can offer some clarity for you. With that out of the way, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.

In Triangle, we follow our main character Jess, as she encounters a mysterious anomaly in the form of a strange electrical storm, which leads her and her friends to a cruise ship containing deadly guests.

We learn that the cause behind these occurrences is hidden behind a foreshadowing in the beginning of the film. Jess had accidentally killed herself and her son in a car crash due to her inadequacy as a parent. Jess could move on and seek forgiveness in God, but her reluctance to move on paired with her selfishness of wanting to stay alive, prevent her son from resting in the afterlife in peace. The cab driver, whom we see after the car crash in the ending scene of the film, encourages Jess to move on from her son’s death so they both can rest in peace. Of course, she refuses, and asks the cab driver to take her to the harbor. The cab driver was presumably there to transport her to anywhere she wanted to go until she was ready to pass on to the afterlife, but Jess thought she could cheat death by boarding the sailboat with the intention of boarding the cruise ship.

After the sailing boat is destroyed in the storm, the group is “rescued” by an empty cruise ship. When Jess arrives on the cruise ship, she eventually learns that if she kills everyone on the ship, she can restart time back when the group first arrived. The two other copies of Jess that exist on the boat are a result of the time loop. These three versions of Jess all compete for what they think will get them off the ship, depending on what period of time they exist in from their perspective.

When the Jess we know and love is kicked off the boat, she returns to shore back in time before Greg set sail. When she kills her past self, who is abusive towards her son, she tries to convince herself and her son that she’s going to be a different person. Really, Jess hasn’t changed, because when this new version of herself is behind the wheel, she still causes the car crash to happen again, indicating her inability to see the truth. Before the car crash, Jess notices a pile of dead seagulls that were all killed due to her poor driving. She could see this as a warning, that she hasn’t changed, and never will change, until she moves on.

The Seagull

“Seagull” by fatedsnowfox is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

There is also a different group of seagulls that follow the boat. Either these are all the same seagull, whom has fallen victim to the time loop, or are completely different seagulls who followed each other to find food. Regardless, we know for sure that this seagull, and the seagulls that are found dead on the beach, all serve as warnings from God. Seagulls are intelligent scavengers, and will never take unnecessary risks unless the situation calls for it. Most seagulls can operate just fine scavenging off of scraps left by humans, and dead bodies. Seagulls, like many other omnivorous creatures, will follow one another in search for food. If an animal follows a certain path consistently, and doesn’t appear to be in distress, it could be a clue that they have knowledge of a reliable source of food or water. So, a seagull may take note of this and follow that particular gull. In short, they are a variation of a crow, raven, or vulture optimized for a city environment.

The seagull that follows the ship does so because he knows that food will be waiting for him on the cruise ship. I can prove this, because Jess retains her memories when she returns to shore. Given the behavior of the seagull, we can assume that he retains his memories as well. Although Jess loses her memories when she falls asleep on the sailboat, we can assume that the seagulls retain their memories, because no members of the crew show any signs of deja-vu or amnesia in any point in the film.

Because Jess knows that the seagulls will always follow the sailboat no matter how many times she boards it, she could take that as a warning that she is going to continue to make the same mistakes, because the seagulls will not stop following Greg’s boat until their food source is no longer available, and the cruise ship will not disappear until she decides to move on.

The seagull in The Shallows serves a similar purpose to Nancy. We know that the seagull has a broken wing that prevents him from returning to shore, much like Nancy who has an injury that severely hinders her chance of survival. The seagull can’t fix himself, and he will likely die if he isn’t tended to soon. Nancy uses her expertise in the medical field to fix his wing so he can have a chance at survival. Since she was able to move on from her mom’s death, she was able to recover and move past her guilt through her brokenness. Thus, she was able to save someone who needed her the most. Since she allowed herself to be vulnerable instead of combating against her sadness, she lived to tell the tale.

For Jess to acknowledge that she was wrong, she would have to admit that all of her previous decisions were wrong. She would also have to admit that although she loves her son, she’s the reason why he met his end.

Jess wanted to revive her son because she was guilty of how she treated him. Her guilt contaminated her judgement, therefore she desperately tried to convince herself that she could save her son from herself because it would be too painful to move on. As a result, she’s perpetually stuck in a time loop, forced to suffer for all eternity.

If she had the bravery to inform Greg about the incoming storm, she could have one last moment with Greg to enjoy her final moments on Earth before returning to the cab driver, and passing to the afterlife.

Final Thoughts

As for the afterlife, it doesn’t matter what Religion you follow, because it is ultimately out of your control what will happen to you when you get there.

As a Christian, I have accepted that no matter what I do, I will have had accumulated several sins in my lifetime upon my passing. Whether or not I deem that I am a good person, doesn’t matter. It is up to God and only God to decide what will happen to me. No matter how scary it sounds that I will never fully understand or know for sure what lies after my death, I can’t think about it, because as a human, it is something I am incapable of understanding.

When someone you loved is ripped away from you, there’s nothing you can do that will bring them back, so moving on is something that must be done. If you decide to combat your feelings and reject their validity, you are only going to push people away that are going through the same pain you are, who are only trying to help you. By the time you realize what you have done, it will be too late to ask for help and you will be more alone than ever before.

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Noah Veremis

Published by Noah Veremis

I love movies.

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