Starfish is a very elusive film that speaks on a highly emotional level. Although the main theme is clear and is about grief, guilt and forgiveness, what lies underneath might be more difficult to grasp. In this article I will discuss how the events can be viewed from different perspectives.
You can view the film as a pure metaphor or as real. Or both, it’s a mixed tape, after all. It starts with the words: Based on a true story.
Well, that is certainly weird, if you consider all the events that follow. This didn’t happen, obviously. Unless… not in our world.
It’s a story about grief and guilt and forgiveness. But is there more to it when you watch between the lines? Could it be a true story after all, somehow, somewhere and somewhen?
The film starts when Aubrey attends the funeral of her friend Grace. She is seemingly uncomfortable and after the funeral she breaks into Grace’s apartment. There she feeds her jellyfish and the turtle, and calls her mother. But the line is bad and is breaking up.
The next morning the town is covered with a layer of snow, all is white and quiet. Too quiet. When she goes outside she gets attacked by a strange creature and runs inside where a man on the walkie talkie tells her how to chase the creature away.
Apparently the world has ended overnight. Everybody is gone, although no bodies are lying around. Huge beautiful creatures and smaller deadly creatures roam the land. Supposedly a signal that has been transmitting for years is responsible for all of this, opening portals from other worlds and dimensions to our world. Grace was unto the signals and collected them all. Seven signals together make one bigger signal that opened the portals and can probably close them.
Grace has hidden these signals on mixed music tapes and hid six tapes all over town. The seventh tape is at her house with a message for Aubrey. She will understand it and hopefully will use the tapes to stop the portals from opening. So Aubrey sets out on a scavenger hunt for the tapes. While she listens to them the lyrics tell us a bit more about her story.
What are the mixed tapes
The man on the walkie talkie tells Aubrey that these signals are a mystery, they don’t know who made them or why, but they know what it does, it opens portals to other dimensions. Grace has tracked all the signals down and put them on seven different mixed tapes with different music styles and genres, and hid them all over town for Aubrey to find.
When Aubrey listens to the tapes she gets transported to other places and other dimensions. But it has always something to do with Aubrey herself. She sees a man, probably her ex Edward without a face, she is transported to a beach where something happened, and eventually she gets transported to another alternate dimension were she sees herself. Here we get clues that the signals can transport her to other places, dimensions and even other times. The past and probably the future.
Just like music opens portals to our emotions, the signals open physical portals through time and space. The mixed tapes not only remind Aubrey of her mistakes, but also what she has lost. She grieves and feels guilty and wants to go home.
The mixed tapes and the lyrics tell us more about Aubrey herself, but it also evokes some emotions. It is symbolical as well as it is real, opening portals. We get to understand that both Grace and Aubrey did something with music and radio and it’s their way of communicating. A way Aubrey would understand as Grace tells her on the seventh tape.
Grief, guilt and forgiveness
The tapes also help with her grieving process and when she is searching for the tapes across town, Grace is always close to her. She even talks to her. Aubrey tells her that she can’t feel her fingers sometimes and Grace says that it’s dissociation, she’s pulling away from the world. Aubrey can’t handle the grief or the guilt. She cheated but we don’t know whom she cheated or who with and what her relationship with Grace really is. Aubrey can’t forgive herself and just wants to go home. But Grace just wants her to be happy.
Alternate realities: what if
Let’s go back to the ‘Based on a true story’ from the beginning of the film. Obviously it can’t be a true story. But what if was a true story after all?
There are some clues that something is slightly off. The apartment of Grace has a very old-fashioned square tv with a wooden frame and she has an old telephone with a hook and a cord. Aubrey doesn’t have a cell phone and the whole vibe of the town feels somewhat out of place, or better said out of our place and time. It looks like a sort of alternate reality to our world.
A more clear clue is given when Aubrey is transported to a meta-perspective or an alternate reality. She sees herself talking to a man telling him that the drawing looks exactly like what she saw. Does she talk about the creatures? And does she see herself in an alternate reality, our reality in which she is making the film based on her true story? And if so, then that must be the future she sees.
We already saw her travel through time to the beach where probably she cheated and where she sees Edward. So why can’t she travel to the future and other dimensions/alternate realities as well?
How does it end
When she has found all the tapes, she plays them at the radio station, and sends out the complete signal. But then the man on the walkie talkie says she has just opened the portals instead of closing them. So did she end the world completely by letting other worlds and creatures in, or did she opened an emotional portal to escape her grief and guilt?
Either way she goes to a physical portal and walks inside. It looks like she is consumed by it and dissolved. But the title of the film is called Starfish. And starfish are known for their regeneration skills. They can regenerate damaged or lost limbs. So when Aubrey steps inside the portal, maybe she regenerates her emotions, finally forgiving herself and maybe she regenerates herself into another dimension. That might explain the meta-perspective scene. She transports herself to our world, where the world didn’t end and she then tells her story by making a movie about it. It does make some sense.
Another clue is left by Grace. When all the tapes are in order they spell: for gi ve + fo rg et. Forgive and forget. It was her last message to Aubrey and maybe by playing the complete signal Aubrey is finally able to do just that and start over.
So Aubrey’s world probably did end. Symbolically, with the loss of Edward and Grace but also in reality due to the portals and the creatures roaming and destroying it. In order to find some forgiveness or make it up to Grace, the least she could do is finish Grace’s work putting together the signal. In doing so she was set by Grace on a quest to forgive herself and moving on with her life. And now maybe she did, in another dimension even, maybe even finding her way back home to a world that hasn’t fallen apart. Where she can built her own world again and maybe even be happy again.