Film of the Week: Euphoria: F*ck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob
“How did I spend my entire life building this, my body, my personality, my soul, around what I think men desire. It’s embarrassing. I feel like a fraud.”
Okay, I might be starting this write-up already conflicted. After all, I am selecting a special episode of a TV series—very much not-a-film—as a “Film of the Week.” Yet, there’s truly not much I’ve seen in the past year like Euphoria’s latest exercise in lockdown filmmaking. F*ck Anyone Who’s Not A Sea Blob may function as a stand-alone bridge episode between seasons—focusing on Jules (Hunter Schafer) as she navigates an identity crisis catalysed by the collapse of her co-dependant relationship with recovering addict Rue (Zendaya)—but it is so much more than something additional, or throwaway. It’s an eye-opening essay on trans identity co-written and performed with candour by the formidable Schafer, directed with an experimental clarity by Sam Levinson, and all realised by the gorgeous cinematography of Marcell Rév. That is to say, it’s utterly spellbinding.
Making the most of lockdown restrictions, Sea Blob is framed by possibly the most realistic feeling therapy session I’ve seen on screen. There’s conversation, exploration, and once the hour’s up there’s no closure or an epiphany: just the understanding that they will both keep working together. Jules comes into her first meeting with all the answers to her problems, and it’s a case for her therapist (Lauren Weedman) to help Jules analyse what the answers mean, and how they can be reframed in healthier ways. When Jules frets over whether or not she’s based her femininity on appealing to a male gaze, when she’s “no longer interested in men; philosophically”, she is asked if she is really that reactive. There’s less truth to that statement than Jules can see—she has a habit of speaking about people the same way even if her opinions of them vary—but there is something there. She idolises the ever changing sea; still clings to the fantasy of “Tyler”, a violent catfish who’s potential she fell in love with before ever meeting. This infects her relationship with Rue, who she finds herself taking on the role of career and rehabilitator, in turn dampening her own needs (which she states, are all about surviving). She admits a fear of puberty, the broadening, the thickening of it taking away from her idea—a societal idea—of a delicate femininity. And all this cycles back to her core concern in this session: she wants to stop some of her hormone therapy. She needs some form of control, she needs stability. She needs redefinition in her own unclouded image.
While it is narratively a one hour therapy session, and technically limited by social distancing regulations, Sea Blob’s scope of presentation and inventiveness blows other lockdown pieces out of the water. It opens with a two minute extreme close up of Jules’ eye as it waters, images of her relationship with Rue flash inside the pupil. When she thinks of her conversations with Tyler, it’s shown in foreboding, empty shots of bare rooms and hallways, subtitled text messages pressing in and out at the bottom of screen. There’s a casual flow of editing and a bracing bluntness to how Jules memories are incorporated to her speech that kills: “No girl ever looked at me the way Rue does”, cut to Rue staring at the camera with absolute love in her eyes. There’s immediacy and clarity in what she knows, but when her thoughts become bigger, more conflicted and unwieldy, the direction matches. My earlier comment of ‘making the most of’ the restrictions should really have been ‘transcends.’ The culmination of her rumination on her own desire is a strange, balletic sex scene that slowly morphs into a nightmare; Jules, willingly pinned underneath Tyler but desperately crawling towards the bathroom door Rue has locked herself behind. Fantasy and desire, care and responsibility; her two forms of love in direct opposition. And when she reaches the door, in a later conversation with her therapist, the surreal nightmare fades and takes the form of stark, cold reality that we feel keenly with her. Jules fears in her heart that Rue will relapse; in dreams, as hard as she knocks or yells there’s no response from beyond the door.
Euphoria as a series isn’t undeserving of some of the ‘style-over-substance’ criticism surrounding it, yet this is easily its best entry. The DNA of natural extravagance and poetic speech are reigned in, creating something with unerring focus. Maybe the latter is a result of Schafer’s role as co-writer; the script feels insightful and authentic to an individual experience of a trans woman, and the overall result of this is weight to the poetry. Less pretty, more real. The language used by Jules feels messy, unrefined, even during monologues: true stream of conscious stuff. And that stream is quite stunning when when crashing against the gorgeous imagery:
Jules plays in the waves, recalling the beauty of her grandmother, comparing it to the sea,
”The ocean is strong as f*ck, and feminine as f*ck. I wish I was as beautiful as the ocean.”