There were rules about being a little girl in the 1980s, and those rules included this: mermaids are awesome, always. (Also, unicorns are the best.) Despite never having seen Splash, I knew it had to be the greatest film ever produced. (The Last Unicorn aside; see above.) Splash could, to my fevered little girl’s imagination, only have been improved it if were about a pirate paleontologist mermaid. And maybe it was! My parents wouldn’t rent it for me, so I had no idea. Splash might well have been about a time-travelling, adventure-having, world-saving princess mermaid pirate paleontologist with a pet dragon and a magical sword.
It probably was.
I finally got around to watching Splash sometime in the mid-90s, and I recall finding it more boring than anything else. Having long since gone off mermaids, and having never really cared about Tom Hanks, Splash just didn’t have much to offer my wide-wale-corduroy-wearing teenaged self. It washed across my consciousness leaving little behind but the faint, salt-flavored trace of a childhood dream disappointed.
Revisiting Splash another fifteen years on, however – well, it turns out Splash isn’t just disappointing and/or boring. It’s actually kind of awful. It’s a dated, lukewarm, unfunny comedy at best; at worst, it’s a thoughtless, ugly, wholly reductive paeon to man’s basest desires and fundamental fears about sex, women and adult responsibility.
Or is it?
What if, deep within the heart of Splash’s puerile fantasies and comedy sexism there’s another film – a secret film? A film that’s not a stupid 80s romcom but a profoundly melancholy examination of a dying child’s fantasy about the adult life he’ll never experience?
Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Bear with me, and let’s see where this ship takes us.