Jack Hockaday’s review published on Letterboxd:
Existentialism, Ontology and Ethics in Sharkboy and Lavagirl: A Critical Essay
In the opening moments of The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl we are introduced to the eponymous heroes, by the mortal protagonist, Max (Cayden Boyd). The superheroes serve as two distinct manifestations of a psychological contradiction within Max.
· Sharkboy (Taylor Lautner) represents Max's aspiration towards a societal ideal of masculinity. He is strong and vicious, his abilities consisting almost entirely of predatory traits of outward aggression and physical prestige. This can be supported by Sharkboy's apparent vulnerabilty to Mr. Electric, Max's warped mental portrayal of his Elementary School teacher: Mr. Electricidad (George Lopez). Max perceives Electricidad as a source of emasculation, witnessed in an early scene in which Max is ridiculed by him, thus subjecting him to social ostracism. It makes sense then for Mr. Electric to overpower Sharkboy, as he represents in Max a stark reminder of his own inadequacy in the hegemonic view of the ideal man. Sharkboy's origin story also presents us with his other key trait, he searches the universe for his lost father. It is a tale of purpose and direction for a lost soul, a goal to keep him going. It is therefore within reason that Sharkboy is a sort personification of Max's wille zur macht (will to power); a term posited by Nietzche to describe the main driving force within humans to persevere and not give in to the existential dread of an indifferent universe. It follows then that Sharkboy is Max's aspirational desire to become an übermensch (superman); Nietzsche's idea of the male ideal, a sort of transcendence of moral idealism, based on one's own personal moral code.
· In contrast to Sharkboy exists Lavagirl (Taylor Dooley). She entirely lacks an origin, appearing out of nowhere as a sort of foil to Sharkboy. She represents Max's Freudian inner conflict of eros and thanatos (his life and death drives respectively); theoretical states of being, according to Freud, that define a human dichotomy: one's compulsive desire to procreate versus one's subconscious desire to die. Lavagirl is a girl of Max's age group, whom it is implied he finds physically attractive. She smiles excessively, as if constantly trying to appease Max's male gaze. She is magma manifested into a female form, flaming hot passion being a literal metaphor for Max's desire, his longing for human connection. However, her perceived beauty is contrasted by her inability to physically touch anything without her emanating flames and destroying it. She laments throughout the film that her being made of lava prevents her from interacting with her surroundings, she is isolated. Here we see her inevitability as a destroyer. Max's subsconscious desire to lay down and die in the face of a world of suffering. She is a personification of Arthur Schopenhauer's hedgehog dilemma; a description of mankinds contradicting desires to connect and to seek solitude. In the analogy, hedgehogs seek eachother out to huddle up for warmth, yet cannot get too close as their needles end up hurting each other; Schopenhauer argues that this is the state of humanity's suffering: we wish to connect with one another, but we know that if we were to ever get too close and reveal our true selves we would face rejection or reject others, thus we are trapped in a state of existential isolation, either getting too close and hurting ourselves or keeping our distance and enduring loneliness. Max's subconscious acknowledgement of this is Lavagirl. Within Lavagirl also lies Max's reverence for the archaic mother. As mentioned prior, she lacks an origin like Sharkboy's, she has no beginning and no end, she simply exists within the narrative, because she is the antithesis of a will to power. She represents Max's oedepal desire for maternal custody. A primal want for the safety and nourishment remembered from infancy, paralleled by the persecution a child receives when learning the nature of being. Almost a masochistic desire to lose agency and be dictated by a motherlike figure.
Max's inner existential conflict now fully expounded upon, we are free to explore the causes of these symptoms. At home he witnesses the dissolution of his parents' marriage, a situation he probably can't help but feel he is somewhat responsible for. At school he is targeted by bullies, solely on the basis of his interests and his disposition. When he seeks support from a figure of authority, Mr. Electricidad, he is met with rejection. Even still, his love interest Marissa (Sasha Pieterse) is the daughter of Electricidad, from whom he perceives to lack approval, preventing his advances, leaving Max emotionally impotent. It is only natural then for Max to recede into a state of fantasy, in an attempt to rationalise his existential angst. However within the universe of the film, fantasy itself possesses ontological distinction.
Reality within The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl seems to operate within the realms of Descartes' ontological argument, which posits:
Premise 1: Whatever I clearly and distinctly perceive to be contained in the idea of something is true of that thing.
Premise 2: I clearly and distinctly perceive that necessary existence is contained in the idea of belief
Conclusion: Therefore, belief, in accordance with the indiscernability of identicals, is reality
I have adjusted the outline of the argument to relate to belief and imagination as opposed to Descartes' clear and distinct idea of God.
This in-world logic then follows that the metaphysical can be invaded by the physical and vice versa, which manifests in the form of the form Max's arch-nemesis and antithesis: Minus, a supervillain-esque alter ego of his classmate Linus (Jacob Davich).
· Minus is an elusive villain. His motives are unclear, beyond the basis that: he can interfere with Max's dreams, so he will. He possesses traits of a psychopath in that he seems to gain pleasure solely from Max's torment, as if asserting his superiority is all it takes to satisfy him. It is clear that Max's subconscious has strawmanned Linus into Minus as a sort of meditation. When faced with unacceptable, unflinching evil, how should one respond? Now we are exploring Max's ethical framework, which is ultimately decided by which of his psychological manifestations prevail: Sharkboy or Lavagirl?
In his decisive battle with Minus, Max is left with an important moral conundrum. Once he has bested Minus, he can either punish him or attempt to rehabilitate him. It is here that we see the a new paradigm within Max form. Sharkboy and Lavagirl learn to work symbiotically, a metaphor for Max embracing both ideologies. He steps up to become his aspirational übermensch, yet rejects Sharkboy's aggression, instead embracing Lavagirl's hedgehog dilemma, seeking to absolve Minus and thus genuinely connect with him, despite the potential for rejection. He cancels his two opposing mental states out to improve himself and rehabilitate Minus, teaching him the value of mercy.
In the final climax of the film, Mr. Electric enters ontological existence with what can only be assumed is the intention of merging the physical and metaphysical plains with his hurricane, thus making all imagination and mental states one, ending all human suffering through the shared experience of one mass state of perception at the cost of individual thought. It is here that Max faces his own ideological hypocrisy, as he witnesses Mr. Electric and Mr. Electricidad as separate entities, he realises his own delusion of self victimisation must stop, as Mr. Electric is a manifestation of his own insecurity over what Electricidad represents as his academic superior. He posits that although unanimous understanding and empathy under one shared imagination would end suffering, he recognises that suffering is a part of life. In doing so he rejects Lavagirl as the archaic mother and allowing true harmony between her and Sharkboy. He manifests this by embracing his desire for Marissa and allowing his faith in her to defeat Mr Electric.
In conclusion, The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl is a film about living and the pain that inevitably comes with that. Imagination and rejection of real life responsibility is a side effect of this issue, but the film argues that one cannot ever feasibly reject insecurity without negative behavioural manifestation.