Starfish Recommendation Explained and Unraveled
Starfish Recommendation Explained and Unraveled - because I have yet to find a movie that is more open ended than this one... IMDB
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Stop. Do you hear that? Off in the distance…it’s the sound of rushing wind and trees falling. Can you hear it? It’s getting closer now. The sharp crack of wood splintering and tornadic whirlwinds. It is the coming of one of the greatest mindjob movies I have ever recommended here on THiNC. And I have recommended a ton of mindjob movies to you over the years. But this movie, Starfish, was glorious and perfect in nearly every way, and I’m sure I will be injecting this movie into conversations, and movie recommendations for years to come. I’m still a little undone by the sheer brilliance of what A.T. White scripted, directed, and scored for us here. Could A.T. be our next Shane Carruth? Woah…he went there!

Speaking of which, I was lucky enough to find A.T., and we are talking about doing an interview (pardon me as a I FAINT) – and I promised him that I would ask a favor of you guys. And that is to head out to here, here, and here, to rate Starfish for him, which, in turn, will help him make Starfish 2 or, Star Wars 97, or whatever he wants. Because you know what, we need a whole lot more A.T.’s in this movie making world than we have today. Ok? So will you jump in, rate the movie for him, and break the scale to the right while you are at it? (That’s my ask, not A.T.’s just so we are clear.)

OK, but what is Starfish, for those of you who haven’t seen it yet? It is a movie that literally defies explanation in that it busts down genre and classification expectations. But what if I were to say that this movie is two parts Cloverfield, three parts Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and five parts I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore. (Or is that five parts, three parts, two parts? And does anyone have a whisk handy? Mine seems to be in the AWOL.) And if you are really really well versed in this world of ultra-overlooked, crazy good movies…and your palette is extraordinarily well-versed, I would then ask you to add a dash of the movie Frequencies, a dollop of It Comes at Night, and maybe just hint, the lightest dash of the movie Enemy. Let’s just say this, once you marinate this confection a bit, it comes out perfectly, a truly perfect blend of action, contemplation, and thrills. I literally cannot say enough about just how perfect this movie is. If you loved Upstream Color by Shane Carruth, then you will love this. But what is it?!? You’ve described around it perfectly Holmes, but you haven’t actually said a thing yet. I know, right!?

Starfish starts with a funeral, and sideways slips into a global alien invasion. The movie is an ode to grief and intimate loss all while grieving the loss of the inhabitants of the entire planet. And then it moves into an attempt to save the world…of sorts. I literally can’t say more than that without giving the movie away. And trust me…you do not want me to give this particular movie away.

Do not, whatever you do, watch this trailer:

Instead, just head over here and watch the movie here, here, or here. And feel free to email me for my address in order to send gifts as a result of me finding you your new favorite film. YES, you are welcome.

Starfish Movie Walkthrough

The movie starts out with a right hook, straight out of the gates, when it tells us that the events that happen here are based on a true story. Wait, what? I thought this was like an alien invasion movie or something? Huh. Just tuck that detail away, and I promise you, we will get to this detail later. Promise. OK?

The movie opens with Aubrey (played by Virginia Gardner) attending the funeral of her close friend Grace (played by Christina Masterson), and her quick retreat from the chaos of that overwhelming experience. Alice, an “English cousin of Grace’s,” asks Aubrey if she got the letter from Grace. “She’s obsessed with this song, she keeps playing it over and over again. Aubrey would understand, Aubrey would get it.”… and thus begins the Gordian knot that is Starfish. And, curious about this letter, and this song she knew nothing about, she went to Grace’s apartment to figure out what this was all about. And when she arrives, she discovers a scavenger hunt on an intergalactic level. Grace had left her seven different tapes, six that have been hidden in key places where they share history together. And with the hope that she may just be able to save the world, she heads off on her morose and backwards, misadventure.

The Mysterious Starfish Apocalypse

“Sound waves that are the basis not just of communication, but of their interactions, for warfare, for exploration, for travel, for opening doorways, what if the signal is them trying to come across to us?”

“A fantasy of mine, a world devoid of people, devoid of distraction.”

“Maybe there was something out there that used sound as its foundation.”

The very first time she is in danger, the guy Aubrey met on Grace’s walkie-talkie, saves her life. But how? He did it by playing some noises across the airwaves, which causes the alien to stop throwing itself at the front door. There is something important here in the sounds and noises. And as she starts going from location, and accumulating tapes, she starts encountering aliens and memories from her past, her failures, and her grief. And one of the most interesting encounters that Aubrey has is with Grace herself. Aubrey is in a school? In a library? Or something like that, when Aubrey imagines that Grace is with her, and they are having a conversation.

Grace – “How’ve you been?”

Aubrey – “I have these dreams like you are still here, that you talk to me.”

Grace – “I’m here, how have you been?”

Aubrey – “I can’t feel my fingers sometimes.”

Grace – “It’s called disassociation – you are pulling away from the world, why?”

Aubrey – “Guess I can’t forgive myself. Is this real?”

Grace – “I’m dead, stupid.”

Aubrey – “I mean, is everything happening real?”

Grace – “Do you want it to be real?”

OK, so there is a lot going on in this conversation. The first is that Aubrey is going insane. She at least knows she is disassociating anyway. But the key question here is whether or not the end of the world is actually happening. And keep this in mind as you consider everything else. This movie is 100% about grief, and the physical and emotional effects that grief causes to the bereaved. Got it?

When this conversation between Aubrey and Grace continues, we learn more and more. Grace asks about the ring that Aubrey is wearing, and Grace tells Aubrey that the reason she is still wearing it is because it’s a reminder of everything bad that she’s done. Everything that she has to make up for. And Grace’s rejoinder is that Aubrey physically cannot make up for it – whatever it is. And then crazy happens.

Aubrey starts listening to tape #4. And we watch as Aubrey jumps from location to location. And then she wakes, back in the stacks, among the books, but this time, she is surrounded by movie equipment. “Aubrey,” or is it Virginia Gardner?, walks behind the camera. SHE STEPS OUTSIDE OF THE MOVIE?!? They broke the fourth wall (get it, tape #4? Hahahah.) So great. But what the heck does it all mean?

And the only way to up the ante even more, is to watch as Aubrey joins herself on the beach. Naked Aubrey stands and watches, as future Aubrey goes and drowns the guy in the water. WHAT?!? This is obviously Aubrey thinking back to THE screw up. The one that caused the remorse, and the falling out with Grace. It is her psyche attacking the memory, and struggling to deal with what she did.

Aubrey Closes All the Doors

When Aubrey heads to the radio station – where she once worked? – she finds the last tape behind a photo of herself, and a guy. “I got the message, don’t worry.” is what she says in response. Who is this guy? He doesn’t seem to be the guy without a face, is it? Or the guy in the water? Just stay there, I’m rewinding… OK OK… so the guy in the water is impossible to make out. But! Just before Aubrey dunks him under the water, we get this flashed on the screen:

Regardless (see outstanding questions below), Aubrey takes all the tapes, and plays them across the radio station’s frequency. And when it’s all done, she declares into the radio that it’s finished. She’s closed all the doors. But the survivors that answer back are like…WAIT WHAT? You played this potential alien weapon out into the void? You mindlessly just rebroadcasted this thing? Boosted it? You basically just amplified the thing that may have ended the world. We didn’t think this could get worse, but apparently it has. And then Aubrey walks into one of the domes that the recording has created.

Outstanding questions for the movie Starfish

Q: Who was the guy on the radio?

A: Absolutely no idea. And yes, that is exactly as good an answer as they come for this question. We get no idea that Aubrey recognizes the guy’s voice. Could it be the guy she spies on via the telescope? Who knows. But whomever it was had intimate knowledge of Grace’s musical research.

Q: What was Aubrey’s relationship to Grace?

A: This is a complicated one. We do know for a fact that Aubrey wronged Grace. Definitely do not know how she was wronged, but wronged she was. Anything beyond that is conjecture. But heck, I’m game…

There are two big possibilities here. The first, and least credible, is that Aubrey and Grace were dating, and Aubrey cheated on Grace with a guy. The second, and the one I think fits the story more lucidly, is that Aubrey cheated with Grace’s boyfriend. The reason I think this is because of the continued flashback to the ocean. Remember the scene with the guy in the water, where she walks past herself, and then drowns the guy? I believe that is Grace’s boyfriend.

Could there be other options here? Yes, many. Lots. A million. But we do know that Grace considers that Aubrey cheated. At least, we know that Aubrey thought that Grace considered she cheated anyway. Because when she had the conversation with herself, via a projection of Grace, she said that she cheated.

Q: What does the title mean, starfish?

A: More vagaries written across vagaries. We actually see starfish when Aubrey feeds Grace’s jellyfish. (I had this same jellyfish tank a while back, I think it was a kickstarter, no? But I never fed my moon jellyfish, starfish – I fed them brine. So, I’m REALLY confused here.) Regardless, are we the starfish, being fed upon by the alien-jellyfish swimming through our atmosphere?

Q: How did Grace die?

A: Again, no idea. When Grace tells her to stop hiding from her, Aubrey says, “I wasn’t there, I didn’t know.” And Grace responds with, “Yes, you did.” You knew what? That Grace was sick? Was dying? Cancer? If you know anything about A.T. White, he is donating all of the money he makes with this movie to cancer research. (Yet another reason to adore this guy and this movie.) And the movie is dedicated to Sayako “Grace” Robinson (1987 – 2014). This, and the fact that the movie is “Based on a true story” and we can surmise that the movie Grace might have also died of cancer.

And now that I think about it…could it be that Aubrey and Grace were best friends? And Aubrey fell in love with some guy and disappeared? Then, while she was gone, Grace was diagnosed with cancer. This would have then given her time to hide the tapes and capture the alien music that opened the doors. And then she died…abandoned by her best friend. Oh, I really like that answer.

Q: What happens when Aubrey plays the tapes through the radio?

A: Well, if the guy on the radio is to be believed, it could be that Grace caused the doors to be opened and allowed the alien creatures through. And then it would be because of Grace that humans were devoured. And it would naturally follow that when Aubrey played the tapes she either caused the doors to be shut (doubtful) or she caused new doors to be opened. If so, then she might be teleporting out of earth and into the direction of their alien home world?

Final Thoughts On Starfish

Starfish is one of my new favorite movies of all time. The cadence, the rhythm, the brilliant acting on the part of Virginia Gardner. Everything about this movie is perfectly done. I also enjoyed the game that was trying to piece it all back together again. Did Aubrey meet this guy at the radio station and then bail on Grace as a result? Did she … did she…

The brilliance of Starfish is that it doesn’t matter. The particulars just don’t matter. Death is a tree shredder, and it causes the living so much pain, that we hallucinate with our grief. We see visceral demons tearing at our souls as we fail at attempting to make sense of this madness.

Which is why it makes sense that this alien invasion movie is based on a true story. Death induced insanity is a real thing. It makes wars over your soul plausible. And that is why this movie is so perfect. It doesn’t add up, nor should it. It doesn’t make sense, nor should it. And yet, I loved that we are given an opportunity to play with the pieces, and see what this panorama generally consists of.

Yes, I realize I am in the minority with just how much I adored this movie. But I would like to hear what you thought of it all the same. Are there hints that I missed somewhere? Are there answers still there awaiting us? I am going to continue watching this movie as I enjoy the chance to investigate the details.

Edited by, CY

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9 Responses

  1. Lauren

    Aaagh! I am SO thrilled you liked the recommendation and even more thrilled to read your analysis. I have found myself thinking about this movie constantly since I watched over the past weekend. Much like I found myself going over and over Upstream Color…
    The tone of the whole movie has just been resting on my solar plexus like…well maybe like a starfish!
    I cannot wait to see what else A T White throws at us.

    • Taylor Holmes

      The one thing I missed out on in this review was giving you your due credit Lauren. Trust me, I will send you 10% of all the gold people send me for sending them their new favorite film! hahahah. (Sorry, I’m reading GOT, and find myself lapsing into King James English randomly.)

      Thanks again Lauren. You nailed this one. And yes, resting on one’s solar plexus is a great way to refer to it. If you liked this, and Upstream – maybe you’d like the movie Monsters? Have you seen it. Very very similar feel, and tone. Scarce monsters (like this) but brilliant foreboding tone. IMDB here. And Tubi has it for free (ads?). Love movies like this.

      Heck, we should start pulling together a list of movies that “rest on one’s solar plexus”. The Upstream Color variety? Monsters. Starfish… and now we have three. Get to ten and we magically have a click bait post! hahahaha. Wonder what the title would be?!? 10 Movies That Will Rest On Your Solar Plexus!!! Oh, another would probably be, The Discovery? And I Don’t Feel At Home in this World? Nah, a little too upbeat. But what about others? The Haunting of Hill House? Or maybe The Perfection? Brain just isn’t clicking right now. When I was younger, I watched two movies over and over again for that solar plexus feeling, and they were The Big Blue (do not, whatever you do, watch the director’s cut, just the original theatrical – thank you kindly), and Bad Influence. But I’m drawing a blank right now for modern mood mindjob movies. (Is that what they are called? Mindjob Mood Movies? That’s a lot of alliteration!)

      You think I’m kidding about making a list!? I, am not! hahaha. Others?

  2. Lisa

    So, I have a lot of thoughts on this film. I watched it earlier tonight and I wasn’t even sure I liked it or understood it at first but after mulling it over a few hours this is what I came up with. Grace, I believe died of cancer as she mentions on one of the tapes that her body is failing her. From what I gathered, Aubrey was engaged to the guy seen in a lot of the flashbacks and she cheated on him and fled to Paris from the guilt leaving him and her friend behind. I’m thinking this is why her mom asks about him on the phone and if she saw him at the funeral. Grace appeared to live alone so I don’t think he was her boyfriend. I’m guessing she had been sick for awhile. So we have Aubrey feeling extreme guilt for not being there for her sick friend plus the cheating. Now, I believe this movie IS a true story with a bit of artistic liberty. I don’t know who Aubrey is in real life but we know the film was dedicated to Grace. I believe Aubrey was so traumatized that she fell into a state of depersonalization or disassociation. I too get this when I’m in a high state of anxiety and it causes me to retreat from the world. I think this best fits the events of the movie as Aubrey had wished everyone on earth to be gone then retreated from said world. Obviously I don’t believe there was a world ending event with signals and here’s where the artistic liberty comes in. She goes on a personal quest searching for the tapes to try to mentally resolve what has happened and process all this guilt. So yeah, that’s my take on this film but I’m not sure what happens at the end. If she blasts all the signals to come back to the world and forgive herself or to try to wreck it more and stay in the depersonalized state. I’d be interested to read any interview with the guy who made this film and exactly what he was trying to portray here. I think this is the longest comment I ever wrote here and I sure hope it goes through!

    • Taylor Holmes

      Hey @Lisa,
      Almost 70 comments! It went through. And I’m picking up what you are putting down. I get it. It’s a great theory. I have been emailing with the writer and director – I’ve sent a pile of clarifications that you talk about here. But if I were him? I wouldn’t answer my questions! Hahaha. The questions only cause us to push to try and figure it out! And your comments makes me realize that there is a lot more here! Gotta watch it again!!!


  3. Lisa

    Oh boy! I am like this in person, too! Haha! But I don’t think you will get a definitive explanation from the guy who made this movie as it would kind of defeat the whole point. Obviously, this is what I am seeing when I watch this movie but it could mean entirely something else to someone else.

  4. Lisa

    When I watch a movie I try to remember key points of conversation. Although in this film it is mostly carried by one character and when she is talking, a lot of a time it’s to a pet turtle. But a lot of the things said in the film pointed me to the conclusion that this is her way of processing her grief and guilt including the conversation she has in the library with her dead friend. I give this actress loads of credit for carrying this movie mostly on her own with the help of a turtle and some jellyfish. I watched an interesting film on Prime last night called Pet Names which I think you might like. I think it did the festival circuit but it deals with some heavy feelings. It’s not a mindjob or anything but it gave me all the feels. It’s definitely not a love story like the title sort of implies.

  5. John young

    ive just watched this movie and as much as i liked it i also was giving it a big WTF. At times it felt like something brit marling would have done a few years back (if you haven’t seen another earth get it watched), but one thing no ones touched on is when shes speaking to the guy at the end he says ‘shes at the broadcast station lets go’ that could give it another slant as in shes went missing and people are looking for her and as for the ending that could be interpreted a few ways along with end of the world/portal/death/absolute madness

  6. James McGill

    Aubrey cheated on her fiancé Edward. She ran away to Paris to hide. Edward blew his face off with a shotgun out of grief. Subsequently, Aubrey’s best friend Grace died of cancer; Aubrey could not deal with her grief and shame over the death of Edward, and so did not visit as Grace was dying. Aubrey’s sorrow and guilt over the deaths of Edward and Grace drives Aubrey to suicide. She drowns herself in the ocean. However, Aubrey cannot find peace in death until she confronts and makes peace with her mistakes. In the end, she ‘forgive and forgets’ and thus finally is laid to rest.


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