Christina Yu: Jellyfish

In middle school, I glimpse a trailer for a popular action adventure movie starring an A-list heart-throb and an unknown foreign actress with a melancholy down-turned mouth.  She is not unusually beautiful, not compared to others, and not particularly gifted either. And yet, there is a three-second clip in the trailer which I enjoy: the heart-throb and foreign actress are swimming beneath the stars and among the glowing jellyfish; she grabs him underwater and begins to kiss him, then they burst out of the water, kissing passionately to the music of some ecstatic rock band. I do not enjoy action or adventure movies, and yet, I must see this movie, if only because of its glorious trailer.

The movie is a disappointment. Because it is rated R, I must watch it with my parents—who voice their disapproval throughout the two and a half hours. The first half features a suicide and makes me feel sick. The second half makes no sense to me. And the middle features several sex scenes during which I am told to cover my eyes. Worst of all, the underwater kissing beneath the stars and among the jellyfish occurs either while I am in the bathroom or covering my eyes—either, I surmise, because I leave the theater without having seen it.

In the years that follow, the heart-throb becomes more and more famous, though I do not care for his movies. The little known foreign actress I never see again. Several years later while wandering through a bookstore, I discover that the bad movie is actually based on an acclaimed novel. As I glance at the cover, I feel a stab of jealousy for the author—or rather, a kind of twisted jealousy directed toward the character played by the foreign actress. I cannot decide which one of them I would prefer to be—the author, the character, or the actress. I skim every page of the book for some mention of the passionate underwater kissing among glowing jellyfish and give up after half an hour. There is nothing particularly original—and even something a bit cheesy about underwater kissing and by this point I have begun to pride myself in having a fine taste in books and movies.

I forget about the story altogether until a decade later, when I rent the same movie with my new husband, an assistant professor of public policy. This time as I watch it, I am entertained even less than before. The plot is simple, the sex scenes embarrassing, and the enchanting actress barely appears. I find myself craving her presence, feeling my interest rise each time she enters a scene. At last we come to the jellyfish part, which happens to come near the end—occurs without ecstatic rock in the background—and holds very little importance in the plot (it can be eliminated, in fact, and should be for the sake of concision). After the jellyfish encounter, the couple narrowly escapes a baby shark while swimming back to the island. The entire village is alerted by their screams, and they do not make love on the white sand afterwards as I have always imagined.

When the movie is done, I feel cheated and grumpy. And suddenly nostalgic for an admirer of mine in my youth—whose affection I did not return until years after he was no longer interested. As my husband begins to talk about the movie and how it functions as a political allegory, I hear myself respond with intelligent comments. We begin a good-natured debate on some social issue we have often enjoyed discussing. At the same time, however, I feel a deeper part of me begin to resent my husband for reasons beyond my control.

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