Albert Camus Would Have Loved Sharknado by Lucy Puopolo

There are seven movies in the Sharknado cinematic universe. The last movie, gloriously titled Sharknado: It’s About Time, follows the two main characters, Fin and Gil, as they warp through the inter-dimensional fabric of space and time, plagued by swarms of bloodthirsty sharks swirling around in a tunnel of doom. Sharknado: It’s About Time includes but is not at all limited to Benjamin Franklin, dinosaur mounts, Cleopatra, a Wild West showdown, and a robot wife that shoots lasers out of her eyes. Some of the cast members include write-home names like Alaska Thunderfuck, Jaason (with two a’s, not a typo) Simmons, and someone who is only ever referred to online as “Naked Cowboy. ” The films also feature Billie Ray Cyrus, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Perez Hilton, and Jerry Springer.  In short, Sharknado is the single best thing to ever happen in the history of cinema.

Albert Camus, renowned French philosopher with a last name no one can pronounce properly, is known for his meditations on the absurd, a term he gave to the dichotomy of humanity’s dedication to find meaning in a futile existence. The universe, according to Camus, is devoid of any harmony or reason; and yet, time and time again, we attempt to make something brilliant out of it. He goes on to explain that if we ever wish to be truly happy, we must embrace the fact that all of this is pointless. We must find liberation in what has too often been written off as mere nihilism. We must find the euphoria in life as something to be lived, ignoring some hypothetical transcendental purpose that eludes our mortal grasp. We must accept that nothing we do has ever or will ever matter and then, as he writes, “Live to the point of tears.”

I feel like I have eaten myself whole. I am, more often than not, a grain of sand to the ocean of my mind –– which is to say, I am a tiny, tiny, speck, doomed to be beaten and thrashed by an entity so unfathomably large I cannot possibly take back control. Intimacy makes my skin crawl, the heightened knowledge of skin on skin prickling like spider legs along my flesh. Any genuine emotion quickly collapses into a bottomless pit of gratuitous self-awareness. My father once confessed to me, just before leaving to meet my mother for a romantic dinner, that he often fears I am too cynical for my own good. He told that he does not want me to die alone. I brushed him off. What I might have said, if I thought less about things that don’t matter and spoke more about things that did, is that the same fear has plagued me every single night for years. But I don’t do either of those things. So I was silent. Later, I allowed my body to cry while I showered, because the tears were indistinguishable from the spew of the faucet. It was less embarrassing that way. No one was watching. But still, I was humiliated.

The first Sharknado has a budget of two million USD. Despite this impressive sum, the movie features some of the most horrendous CGI anyone has ever laid eyes upon. Sharks in motion deteriorate quickly into blurring, three-dimensional grey blobs that look like stickers pasted onto your television. The acting is the perfect combination of melodrama and monotony; they somehow manage to shout way too loudly without making any specific facial expression at all. The plot has more holes than substance. Not a single event across the ten hours of total run time makes sense, looks good, or is performed well. Despite all of this, I cannot name a series of movies that has brought me more joy.

In his philosophical essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus describes the strife of Sisyphus, a man from Greek mythology who is cursed to roll a boulder up a hill only to have it tumble back down once he approaches the peak, over and over, for eternity. A classically abysmal existence, you might think. However, Camus disagrees. “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart,” he writes. “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

My overthinking is an activity so self-destructive that I must take pride in it before it tears me apart. I say this with an acute awareness of the fact that it has most likely already done so, as well as the cautious pride that I have somehow managed to exist regardless. The perilous conquering of my own flesh and bone should be adapted into a dramatic hero’s story. Or, perhaps, a sitcom. Take this, for instance: we open on a shot from above. Fade in from the dark. There’s a teenage girl lying in bed. An invisible but detectable sarcophagus outlines her body. You can barely see her face. She is not moving. The camera slowly creeps in. The silence in the room is loud. Deafening. As her face comes into focus, you notice that she is silently crying. Tears slip out of the corners of her eyes and slide down her cheeks, the softest touch she has dared to feel in years. Closer, and you see the terror written into her sweat-drenched frame, as hearty and tenuous as marrow covered in bone. Closer still. This is all in her head, didn’t you realize? She has talked herself into oblivion. She is too far gone now. Her chest rises and falls erratically, like the thumping of a finger on a steering wheel in traffic. You want her to move, get away from the camera, it’s getting uncomfortable. It’s too much. But she can’t. She is frozen. She is paralyzed. She is a prisoner. Cue the canned laughter.

Before Sharknado, the pretentiousness of my taste was not lost on me. I would spend so long deliberating on movies to watch, I never really watched any movies at all. And maybe this is stupid, maybe everyone can just turn off their brains and watch a movie when they want to. But if that’s true, everyone must exclude me in the fine print. The first time I clicked on a Sharknado title, I didn’t see it all the way through. Instead, a good friend and I scrubbed through the timeline, stopping at random moments to laugh and jab our fingers at the TV. I feel like there is an overwhelming pressure, especially with the increasingly extraordinary youth of today, to be or say or do something remarkable, to leave a stain on the Milky Way. The compulsion for early-onset greatness has grown virtually inextricable from the simple act of existing as a young person. I know others feel it. I certainly do, though I’m not sure when it started. However, I do know that for me, the light at the end the tunnel is Sharknado. For the first time in years, I didn’t have to deliberate over intellectual media consumption, or analyze the details of every cinematic decision. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with either of these processes; I enjoy partaking in them quite often. But sometimes, the expectation is immobilizing. If every molehill needs to become a mountain, how can you ever walk on the ground again? Sometimes, you just need good, solid dirt. Sometimes, it’s nice to laugh at bad CGI and horrendously glaring continuity errors. Sometimes, I’ve realized, that’s enough.

I think that Camus’s approach to absurdism is too often misconstrued. Happiness is not something to be achieved, a goal so far it peaks on the horizon. Joy in life is not external, to be earned or fought for or acquired in spite of existence. Instead, it is within us. It is and always has been within us, the simplest and most pure form of the uniquely human experience. For some reason, we have made exercising this inherent delight increasingly difficult as we age. Have you ever seen a child meticulously calculate if they should or should not play with their friends, or dance in the rain, or eat ice cream, or watch a movie? And so, again, I reinstate the absurd. Euphoria coexists with this discordant world in an astounding harmony. The beautifully natural joy of living is automatically distilled within the fibers of every single human being who has had the courage to be born. All we have to do is surrender.

I don’t know if I will think less. I don’t know if my father still wonders if there will be an aisle to walk down in my future. I don’t know if I am happy, right now, in this moment, or if I have successfully embraced the absurd, subsequently liberating myself from the chains of absolute existentialist nihilism. All I know is that I love Sharknado, a film which, like Camus’s absurdism, showcases that the universe is a wildly, erratically unpredictable twin to humanity, and that the best, and possibly only, thing we can do is accept it.

Sisyphus has realized that his survival is nothing more than a series of unfortunate events on loop, and that every minuscule success precedes a monumental failure. Sisyphus is tired. Sisyphus is anxious. Sisyphus has lower back pain and a persistent, throbbing headache. But Sisyphus has discovered that he can live in motion. He does not have to exist cumulatively. His life is not defined by a moment, but the moments: not by the tumble, but by the push. And so Sisyphus is happy. Or at the very least, he is trying to be. 

Our joy is absurd. Absurd, like being able to breathe for the first time in your life at sixteen years old, like an time-traveling tornado of sharks, like Camus as a person, like Camus as a last name, like us, the most undying mortals, the only species who have figured out how to live in lieu of mere survival. So when I say this, please know I say it as someone who has exhausted herself chasing the cries of the beast locked deep in her ribcage –– there is nothing more than this, right here, right now.

Doesn’t that bring tears of joy to your eyes?

Lucy Puopolo (she/her) is currently a high school junior based in Puerto Rico. She is a Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop alumna, and can be found in orangepeel and Healthline Zine. She enjoys reading and tripping into rabbit holes on the Internet.