film / tv / substack / social media / lists / web / celeb / pajiba love / misc / about / cbr
film / tv / substack / web / celeb


Scene Academic: The Jellyfish’s Sting (or How Death Gets Cringe in 2008’s 'Seven Pounds')

By Kaleena Rivera | Film | November 20, 2020 |

By Kaleena Rivera | Film | November 20, 2020 |


Note: This article describes a fictional depiction of suicide. For anyone contemplating suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

Last week, I was flitting through social media when Pajiba alum Courtney Enlow set off a memory flash grenade in my brain, reminding me of one of the most emotionally manipulative and utterly illogical films in cinematic history: Seven Pounds.

For those who may be blissfully unaware, the 2008 film stars Will Smith as Ben Thomas, a mysterious IRS agent who weaves in and out of people’s lives. Thomas commits grand gestures of kindness for random strangers, from donating bone marrow for a cancer-stricken child to gifting the deed for his home to a mother trying to extricate herself from an abusive relationship. Occasionally he uses cruelty to determine a person’s “worthiness,” such as at the beginning of the film when he aggressively harasses a blind customer service rep and part-time piano instructor named Ezra (Woody Harrelson). Thomas’ main focus, however, winds up being a woman named Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), who is coping with a congenital heart defect and is on the transplant list awaiting a new heart. Ben Thomas’ motivations are cloaked in mystery, but soon become exposed as the secrets behind his dark past slowly emerge.

(massive spoilers from here on out)

As it turns out, Ben Thomas is, in fact, Tim Thomas, a former aeronautics engineer who, one night, distracted by a text message, proceeds to crash his speeding Porsche into a van, killing his fiancée and the van’s occupants in the process (“seven pounds” is apparently a reference to Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in which Antonio promises “a pound of flesh” for a debt). Tim has stolen his brother’s identity (played by Michael Ealy) in order to access his IRS credentials as a convenient means of seeking “worthy” people to save—a construct in the film I personally find to be abhorrent—in order to atone for his awful mistake. The film culminates with Tim unveiling the final step to his grand plan: donating his vital organs by committing suicide via box jellyfish.

By jellyfish.

He kills himself. With a jellyfish.

All of these years later and this still breaks my brain. In a film packed to the brim with eyebrow-raising character decisions (like all of the stalking, dear Christ, there is so much stalking), watching Will Smith off himself with a f*cking jellyfish in a motel bathtub almost manages to gaslight you into thinking everything that came before made sense (it doesn’t, don’t be fooled!).

And being reminded of this awful movie leads me to ask: Is this cringe-filled death mission feasible in any way?

Jellyfish breakdown

So what the hell is up with jellyfish? Here’s the basics: Jellyfish are of the phylum Cnidaria, subphylum Medusozoa—yep, as in Medusa, courtesy of racist scientific pioneer, Carl Linnaeus—and are found in both fresh and salt water. Their bodies are composed of 95 percent water and are so lacking in substance that they have neither brains nor hearts (much like your ex). Despite their simple anatomy, they’ve remained fairly unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

Screen Shot 2020-11-20 at 2.13.37 PM.png

Pretty impressive for a water bag with the physical endurance of a sunny-side-up egg yolk, especially since most put very little effort in their own locomotion, opting instead to just go wherever the current takes them (just like your ex). Jellyfish sport varying levels of venom that’s delivered via nematocysts, tiny hell-arrows of pain on the surface of their tentacles, used for paralyzing small prey in order to suck them up into their mouths. Most common jellyfish stings are, while irritating, not particularly fatal for humans. There are, however, some very notable exceptions.

The aquatic star of our film happens to be one of these outliers. Referred to as the “box jellyfish” on account of its cube-ish head, this separate class of jellyfish is capable of active propulsion (up to 4.5 mph/7.2 km) and a much superior sight capability. While they are generally considered one of the most venomous creatures in the world—as we’re informed by Will Smith’s narration—there is only a handful of species within this class that should be truly feared, though for simplicity’s sake, I will continue using the unspecific term “box jellyfish.”

Unfortunately, the dangerous box jellyfishes do come into contact with humans, and from those who undergo the ordeal, the pain is almost universally described as “burning” and is said to be excruciating. It is very difficult to find accurate numbers of annual deaths, but it’s estimated to be somewhere around 100 or more individuals around the world, with approximately 20-40 in the Philippines alone (box jellyfish mainly reside in Indo-Pacific waters). The primary cause of death is cardiac arrest.

Yep. Cardiac arrest. Sort of makes the decision to die by box jellyfish so you can donate your heart to your girlfriend suddenly seem like an EXTREMELY poor choice.

I did a lot of digging to try to confirm my suspicion that Thomas’ heart could not be donated, but my results can only be described as “inconclusive.” Donor hearts are obviously in low supply, so there have been pushes to extend the parameters regarding details such as age and relative health. However, without access to a cardiothoracic surgeon, I can’t say one way or another for certain. But since many toxicologists report that the source of cardiac arrest are the proteins within the venom that effectively kills human heart cells, I’m gonna say that’s probably a big fat “no” on that one.

In case you’re wondering, “How does one acquire a jellyfish?” It is possible to acquire some common harmless jellyfish as exotic pets within the U.S., though they’re kind of a pain in the ass to keep. Also, just don’t. Exotic pets are a terrible idea and awful for the environment. Don’t be an ass. Just get a goldfish, you mook. Plus, they’re so fragile, jellyfish kept in captivity need all sorts of extra considerations and care, such as the fact they must be kept inside of a round tank (a detail the film gets right), as square corners are death traps for jellies because they can’t figure out how to maneuver out of them, causing the poor creature to tear itself and die.

Final takeaway

The final minutes of this mawkish drama close with a mournful Emily, looking healthier than ever thanks to the Fresh Prince’s heart dub-a-lubbing in her rib cage, walking into an outdoor choir performance that has Ezra providing piano accompaniment. When she finally goes to introduce herself to him afterward, he is now looking at her through a new set of corneas, naturally gifted to him by Thomas. And yes, the director opted to put blue-eyed Harrelson in demonically dark brown contacts, just to leave the viewer with one last unsettling image before the credits finally mercifully roll.

If you are suffering from trauma like the character Ben Thomas is in this film, again, please seek the help of a licensed professional. While I encourage people to sign up to be organ donors, please don’t hasten the process by dying via a highly venomous creature. It’s ridiculous, over the top, and probably won’t work half as well as you intend it to.

For additional jellyfish fun:

Alie Ward’s remarkable podcast Ologies (seriously, it’s one of my favorite podcasts in the world) has an incredibly fun episode on jellies.

Monterey Bay Aquarium has a jellyfish cam and, yes, it is soothing af.