The Shape of Wateri is a slightly more sophisticatedii romantic comedy than the usual pulpy variety, which isn’t saying much when Jennifer Aniston is the competition, but it’s still mired in many of the same mentally corrosive norms that afflict the genre as a whole.
Most of the dumb in this movie revolves around Octavia Spencer’s character, Zelda Delilah Fuller. Not a lippier and less believable nigress could you possibly imagine, nor could possibly have been written in by del Toro and Taylor. While the audience packing the small basement screening room at the Princess Theatre loved and laughed at Zelda’s sassy ways and snappy retortsiii – showing only that the insertion of a character so entitled and so oblivious to the true workings of the worldiv that she could only have come from 21st century America was well placed in the pandering popcorn flick sense if a total disaster in the artistic sense – I couldn’t help but be grated by her ceaseless bullshit. As fucking if an African American cleaning lady working in a top secret federal laboratory would have the unbridled temerity to tell the researchers to pick up their own garbage, to tell her boss that she wants to finish lunch before dealing with an emergency, and to tell her husband to get the door when she’s already standing. The period portrayed wasn’t so fucking rosy that anyone could say whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, to whomever they so pleased without repercussions. This was a time before hashtag vigilante #metwo alleged-is-the-same-as-proven “justice,” recall. The US might’ve boasted more manufacturing might back then but it sure as shit didn’t boast fungible fungi with one-liners to spare. I dunno where del Toro lived in the 1960’sv but it sure as hell wasn’t Baltimore or anything even remotely resembling it. Goddamn that fat fuck for despoiling his own work so.
The rest of the film, believe it or not, was suitably enjoyable. The period perfectvi costumes, cars, watches,vii combined with very sharp animation and accented with a bit of light gore made for a convincing transportation into another world, even though one tinged by science fiction, and only with the selective mental censorship of Ms. Zelda. Dr. Hoffstetler, played by Michael Stuhlbarg,viii stole the supporting spotlight from the mouthy broad with his more than passable command of the Russian language. For someone born and raised in California, Stuhlbarg displays incredibly convincing accents, possibly the best since Waltz’ Hans Landa. But perhaps that’s too generous a comparison. The leathery Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, is unflinching, piercing, and superbly cast. It’s only surprising that Strickland makes advances on the mute Elisa but doesn’t close the deal. The conclusion to the film would’ve been that much more satisfying had Elisa been raped by him, but then again that would’ve been too “real” for this Lewis Carroll-esque fantasy.
The primarily aquatic “Creature” from the Amazon jungle isn’t exactly loveable, but he’s hardly offensive either. In fact, he’s probably a lot how a Citizen of TMSR would be treated by the soi-disant Powers That Be were he or she so visibly exotic. The Citizen, like the Creature, has supernatural abilities, lives on an all-protein diet,ix inhabits a humanoid form, is most comfortable in an ethereal world, can only tolerate meatspace in sporadic intervals, prefers more generous and less uppity ladies, will bite your fingers off if given the chance, is treated with god-like reverence by peoples in savage lands, is as much an opportunity as a threat if captured for scientific study, and yet always wins in the end. The parallels are actually a bit striking, even if I’m the only one in the world who would possibly draw such parallels.
This film, then, makes for quite the metaphorical template. The shape of water indeed.
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- 2017. Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Michael Shannon and Sally Hawkins. [↩]
- Titties are sine qua non for a romantic movie. Thankfully Hawkins and Lauren Lee Smith deliver. [↩]
- When I say “snappy” and you imagine Dilbert’s Snappy Comeback Turtle, you’re not far off the mark.
- Ie. hierarchy exists whether you like it or not, whether it’s fair or not, or whether you wish it were otherwise or not. It’s what it is. Grow up. [↩]
- /me looks, sees Guadalajara Mexico is the answer. [↩]
- Read MCM. [↩]
- Anyone who knows their 50’s and 60’s Swiss timepieces would have an absolute field day with this film. Only a Bulova is obvious upon close-up of the face but a more knowledgable connoisseur would pick up far more besides. [↩]
- You may recognise Stulhbarg from his role as perfectly lost protagonist Larry Gopnik in the Coen Brothers’ A Series Man (2009). [↩]
- A cat’s head is as fine a meal as any. [↩]