The Depth in The Shallows


Have you ever seen a movie you can’t stop thinking about? It doesn’t even have to be a deep, insightful experience, but sticks with you for days. I’m like that about The Shallows, a survival film where a girl is stranded two hundred yards from shore circled by a shark. She must rely on her wits to survive. The film is deeper than it looks, and less of a story of girl vs. great white than a metaphor for life.

I suffer from a slight anxiety disorder. If I’m not careful, fear can run my life and prevent me from rushing toward new experiences, relationships, or pursuits with open arms. Nancy floating on her surfboard, unaware, terrified me, because she can’t see what’s under her, in the ocean. The water is too deep and dark. Life seems like that to me sometimes – it’s scary, because I don’t know what’s out there. It might be a gorgeous school of fish, and stunning coral reefs, and exquisite dolphins… or a shark.

Sharks symbolize the struggles we face in life that seem too big to handle, the unexpected horrors and challenges we don’t feel strong enough to face. They may or may not lurk beneath the deep, and they might not even be after us, but it’s enough to imagine they are there. Sharks are scary because they are forces beyond our control. Control makes us feel safe. In the ocean, we’re at the mercy of forces larger than ourselves. Waves carry us, tides draw us out to sea, sometimes we’re totally present, surfing without a care in the world, then our feet slip and plunge us into the depths.


That’s scary. It’s easier to stand on the beach clutching your surfboard then to risk wiping out in the waves. But you miss out on so much.

Nancy is trying to find a connection to her mom, a way to understand the loss of the most important person in her life; she wants to know why life is worth fighting for if you’re going to lose. Though the film never fills in the details, it’s easy to assume her mother fought a long, hard battle with cancer and lost. Nancy’s plight becomes a metaphor for her life. She has to choose to fight to live, or to lay down and die. She waffles in indecision. Everything seems against her. Then she chooses to live and survives.

Fearis saying, “I can’t do this. I won’t make it. I won’t survive.”

Courage is saying, “I’m scared out of my mind, but doing it anyway!”

You don’t leap into the ocean without knowing how to swim, you put one foot in front of you at a time. It’s easier that way. And, life has taught me, thinking about things is often scarier than doing them. So I just take it one day at a time, and trust that like Nancy, whatever happens, I can handle it, if I have enough courage to say, “Let’s do this.”

3 thoughts on “The Depth in The Shallows

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  1. It sounds like this film would terrify me for the same reasons it did you. Rather like my reluctance to watch Gravity because all of that nothing, the helplessness of the character, the loss of control petrifies me.

  2. As usual, insightful, wonderful and well-written post, friend. Lots of truth within especially about courage being admitting fear, but going for it regardless. Thank you for sharing.

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