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Five Simple Rules for Mermaid Movies

Five Simple Rules for Mermaid Movies (photo)

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Technically, Ondine — the title character of Neil Jordan’s new film — isn’t a mermaid. When she winds up in fisherman Colin Farrell’s net in the middle of the ocean, his daughter (Alison Barry) becomes convinced that she might be a selkie, a mythological seal-human hybrid of European folklore that the father and daughter take in as one of their own.

But, after all, a rose by any other name would smell just as sweet, and a mermaid by any other name would smell just as briny. Whatever you want to call its subject, “Ondine” certainly follows many of the rules of mermaid movies established by its cinematic predecessors. To wit, here are some rules to live by when your average Joe pulls out a mermaid from the sea (oh, and beware landlubbers, some SPOILERS be near):

06042010_LittleMermaid.jpg1) They’re about testing the possibility of impossible love.

Most mermaid movies, “Ondine” included, are about love in the face of great obstacles. They wind up working nicely as metaphors for any kind of relationship between people of different societal groups. As a mermaid and a human, Ariel (voiced by Jodi Benson) and Eric (voiced by Christopher Daniel Barnes) from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid” (1989) face the same sorts of problems that hound many interracial or interfaith couples: disapproving parents, societal guilt and pressure.

In the sequel “The Little Mermaid II: Return to the Sea” (2000), the always contested question of how to raise their children. As if that weren’t enough, they’ve also got to contend with storms, shipwrecks, evil witches and Faustian bargains on their way to their happy ending. Not an easy road to walk (or sea to swim) for anyone, but it’s pretty typical of the enormous odds usually stacked against mermaid/human lovers on screen.

06042010_DennisHoppernighttide.jpg2) Mermaids don’t work well on deadlines.

Mermaids come with so many rules. They’re like the Mogwai of the sea: handle with extreme care or suffer the consequences. Primary among these rules is the fact that they can stay on land only for so long before, depending on the story, they die, or must return to the sea, or are stuck living here permanently. Madison (Daryl Hannah) from “Splash” (1984), for example, has only six days with Tom Hanks’ Allen before she has to head back to watery climes.

Though a lot of movie mermaids are benevolent, a few have violent tendencies, which are commonly synched to lunar cycles: Dennis Hopper suspects his girlfriend (Linda Lawson) in “Night Tide” (1961) might be a mermaid driven to kill under the full moon. So I guess they’re sort of the Mogwai werewolves of the sea (Right now, someone is Hollywood is trademarking the name “Mogwai Werewolves of the Sea.” Tagline: Next Christmas, come sea what happens if you don’t feed them after midnight!)

06042010_Peabody.jpg3) They ain’t feminists, either.

In “A Little Mermaid,” Ariel is a curious 16-year-old mermaid, with dreams of exploring the world of humans. But once she’s laid her eyes on Prince Eric, she forgets all of that and focuses entirely on him; she gives up her beautiful singing voice and risks an eternity of damnation all to be with a guy she’s barely met and never even talked to. And, sadly, that’s pretty much how it goes for movie mermaids, many of whom represent a slightly unsavory portrait of man’s ideal woman: obedient, voluptuous, willing, naked, and silent. Is this really what men want? According to mermaid movies, yes. For one particularly demented example, watch “Mr. Peabody and the Mermaid” from 1948, in which a married William Powell cheats on his wife Polly (Irene Hervey) with a mermaid (Ann Blyth) he catches fishing in the Caribbean.

Mr. Peabody’s mermaid, whom he names Lenore, stands in stark contrast to the missus. Unlike the wise-talking, independent Mrs. Peabody, who angers her husband by talking to other men on the beach in a slinky bathing suit, Lenore waits patiently, faithfully and mutely for his visits to her home in the Peabody pond. Even though she can’t speak and they have nothing in common — Peabody’s not even a good swimmer — he claims to have fallen in love with her because “there’s much to be said for a woman, even an imperfect one, who lives, breathes, and exists only for the man she loves.” Somewhere, Laura Mulvey is crying.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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