Stop Googling Whether ‘Under Paris’ Is Based On A True Story

By Jonathon Wilson
Published: June 11, 2024 (Last updated: 2 weeks ago)
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Is Under Paris based on a true story? Are there sharks in the Seine?
Under Paris | Image via Netflix

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS

I shouldn’t have to say this, but no — Under Paris is not based on a true story, and there are no sharks in the Seine River. It would be best if you stopped Googling it now. Please.

How did we get here? How is this a thing that people are curious about? Is media literacy this bad? Do people not watch the news?

I suspect I know the answer to all of these questions, otherwise, I wouldn’t have to comment on whether a silly Netflix movie about a mutated mako shark and its offspring settling in the Seine River and eventually sinking Paris is a work of rigorous nonfiction. Xavier Gens, for the record, is not a documentarian. He made that Hitman movie starring Timothy Olyphant.

But there’s obviously something about the idea. Maybe it’s fear. Ever since Jaws, people have been terrified of sharks, and rightly so, since they’re fierce apex predators with loads of teeth. If there were a shark in a river near you, you’d be right to worry. So, jokes aside, I get it.

Maybe the issue is the framing of the question. Perhaps people aren’t worried about whether Under Paris is true, but whether it could become true under the right circumstances.

Allow me to explain why this is all a load of nonsense.

What is Under Paris about?

In simple terms, Under Paris is about a shark. Its name is Lilith, and it’s an evolved mako that has migrated from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the Parisian catacombs via the Seine River, thanks to genetic mutations that I’ll go over shortly.

Lilith has a bit of backstory with our protagonist, marine biologist Sophia (Bérénice Bejo), who is one of three characters — the others being annoying environmental activist Mika (Léa Léviant) and comically handsome police diver Adil (Nassim Lyes) — tasked with sorting out the Lilith problem before it clashes with an upcoming triathlon.

But the Lilith problem quickly becomes a “Lilith and her innumerable children” problem, complicating matters enormously.

Is Under Paris a true story?

Under Paris is absolutely not a true story, nor could it ever be for a variety of reasons.

As above, I suspect when people ask this question they’re asking about the feasibility more than anything else. This is a silly question too, but it’s a bit less silly than the alternative.

Are there sharks in the Seine River?

This is the crux of the matter. If the Seine River is amenable to sharks in this movie, it and any other waterways could become similarly infested by killer fish, right? Well, wrong, as it happens. There are no sharks in the Seine, and there couldn’t ever really be sharks in the Seine either.

This is due to a couple of reasons. One is a plot point in the movie — most species of sharks, including the mako, aren’t adapted for freshwater. Most sharks can’t tolerate a range of salinities, and freshwater would dehydrate them. One of Lilith’s evolutions is her ability to regulate the water content of her body at different salinities. But nothing outside of a movie evolves this conveniently or quickly, so for the time being, makos aren’t going to be anywhere near the Seine.

Even if freshwater suddenly stopped being a problem, 75 miles of the Seine are navigable by ships, so there are six groups of locks between the open ocean and Paris. Even Lilith hasn’t evolved the ability to deal with this particular issue.

Is Under Paris based on a true story? Are there sharks in the Seine?

Under Paris | Image via Netflix

What kind of shark is Lilith?

In Under Paris, Lilith is a mako shark but has rapidly evolved to such a degree that she barely even resembles one.

Makos aren’t as big as Lilith, who more resembles a Great White — aka the Jaws shark — in size. They also cannot adapt to varying salinities in the way Lilith can.

One of the other crucial evolutions is parthenogenesis, a portmanteau of the Greek words parthénos, meaning “virgin”, and génesis, meaning “creation”. So, in other words, a virgin birth, without the need for a mate. But Lilith doesn’t give birth to Jesus, but instead many, many more mako sharks, who can also reproduce asexually. As it happens, this is a real phenomenon that some shark species are indeed capable of.

But not makos. So, don’t worry. Even if a mako shark were somehow able to make it from the Atlantic, through the English Channel, up the Seine, and into Paris, you’d only have to deal with one of them.

Do mako sharks eat people?

All sharks are capable of eating people. But they’re intelligent creatures, so they wouldn’t just plow into a group of frantic humans like the sharks in Under Paris. 

Makos have complex sensory systems allowing them to detect subtle pressure changes in water, received via electrical impulses and vibrations. A large group of people paddling directly above a mako shark would send it swimming the other way, not provoke a feeding frenzy. So, even if a super-evolved shark (which isn’t how evolution works) were able to make it into the Seine all the way to Paris (which it can’t) to be able to reproduce asexually (which it sometimes can, but not in this case) in the catacombs of Paris (where makos can’t survive), they’d probably just leave in a bit of a panic.

I told you to stop Googling this. I hope now you do.


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