The Shape of Water (2017)

(Warning:  explicit content ahead!  And spoilers.)

There’s a moment in Mike Judge’s brilliant dystopian comedy, Idiocracy, that comes to mind:  when the hero, “Not Sure” tries to hold a private conference with the girl who was put into suspended animation with him, his guards want to know why he wants to go into the bushes with her.  He gives them a few broad carnal hints to ease their suspicions, but they just can’t figure out what he’s trying to say.

Not, that is, until he is forced to resort to an extremely explicit and crude two-handed gesture…

I’ll admit I find myself thinking about this a lot these days.  It seems impossible for modern Americans to understand that two people in a movie like each other unless they are shown in a sweaty tangle of naked limbs…

And not just a few quick glimpses, at that!

Or is it just that the filmmaking industry can’t understand it?  I wonder…

I guess more than anything else, I find the underlying message of The Shape of Water rather depressing.  I mean, here we have someone who has a remarkably close platonic relationship with her next door neighbor, Giles — motherly, almost — and a close friend at work who is always looking out for her.  Most of us are lucky if we manage to find such close relationships in our lives.  And yet, she is lonely.

Lonely?

Of course.  She isn’t getting banged regularly.

And at the bottom that’s really all that’s here.  While it’s billed as a romance, those elements seem almost perfunctory, as the film has to spend a lot of time trying to establish even the simplest connection between the two.  They really haven’t got much further than The Bride of Frankenstein‘s “Food Good!” before she is throwing herself naked at the beast.  I can’t help thinking that, if the same story had been made with a human being instead of a fish man as its dark and mysterious stranger, that sudden sprint for the bedroom would have seemed a bit absurd.

It certainly wouldn’t have won them an Oscar.

It’s all cast as if it were a fairy tale, complete with a fourth act bit of magic to give us a happy ending (although I’m not sure it really is such a thing, as it is interrupted by a voice over that reminds us once again that this is a story someone is telling us.  That  should remind us that the film started with what proved to be an underwater fantasy sequence, complete with a voiceover) .  But the often grim events, the violence, gore, and the preoccupation with sex push anything as light-hearted and fanciful as a fairy tale aside.

As it is, whether Elisa lived happily ever after or died, there would have been a lot more emotional weight to the film without that final resort to magic.  To send someone away and keep him safe (yes, despite the fact that you want him to stay and keep rocking your world), to give up what you want to save someone else — that’s the stuff of real tragedy.   Guillermo del Toro flirts with the idea but we all know that sacrifice, no matter how noble, keeps you from getting banged regularly.

It is the conflict between the two sides of the film that throws too strong a light on some of its flaws.  Consider, for example, the scene in which Elisa floods the bathroom for a bit of the old underwater in-n-out:  we see the light over the sink still burning underwater.  We might ignore this in a fantasy film, but in a darker, grittier world that is closer to reality?  Water and electricity do no mix well.  Even if the light didn’t short out, there are good odds you’d end up getting a bad shock sooner or later.

Or consider the ol’ facts of life.  Yes, Guillermo does give us a handy explanation of one notable absence, but if you know a little about some of the more…interesting…aspects of biology, then you are going to start wondering about whether there would be serious, ummmm… “compatibility issues.”

And let’s face it, are there really that many people who think that man being created in the image of God means God has legs and arms?

I also find it curious, following Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, that Soviet spies have become the newest misunderstood minority.  I suppose, after the release of the Venona transcripts, and the Russian decision to open the KGB archives, we can no longer dismiss the stories of Russian spies as mere hysteria.  So perhaps making them more cuddly is all that’s left.

After I’d thought about this one for a long time, I finally realized there was a beautiful, Indie drama here that Guillermo completely failed to make, the kind of film that Independent filmmakers used to make.  There was a real romance here that deserved far more attention than doing the beast with two backs with a Gill man, if you stop for a second and picture this same film, with the same relationship between the two, and the Fish Man replaced by a mere escaped con.

And that’s when the real love story becomes obvious  When Elisa tries to free the creature, she asks Giles to help.  He’s terrified, but in the end does it because it is important to her.

He risks arrest, jail and ultimately puts his life on the line for her.  He is willing to sacrifice everything for her.  What’s more, it’s a love that has nothing to do with humping (particularly as Giles isn’t interested in girls).

And exploring that love would have made a far more interesting film.  Just imagine the difference if, in the end. she finally realized that her fling with the beast was mere animal attraction, that she had been loved all along, and had never, never truly been lonely…

Even if she wasn’t being banged regularly.

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