Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water
seen @ Kew Gardens Cinemas, Kew Gardens, Queens NY

Even as a kid, I had the impression King Kong wanted to, um, do the horizontal mambo with the chick. Maybe it's not as obvious in the Fay Wray original, but it sure as hell is in the Jessica Lange version, the one I grew up with. I couldn't have articulated it then, but I distinctly remember having "that funny feeling" when he was alone with her, using his finger to tug at her clothes...

In all those old monster movies where the heroine is carried by the alien or the creature or the robot or whatever - a trope stolen from the covers of pulp SF books and magazines - I suspect the implication of sexual intent was there, but how often did we actually see it happen?

In the movies, at least, that sort of thing wouldn't fly, especially since you couldn't even show sex between two humans! This was probably why the monster carry happened so often: to imply what they couldn't depict.

On TV, in Star Trek, you had Mr. Spock, who was not completely alien: he was the offspring of a human and an alien. It was never talked about explicitly, but think about it for a minute: what must it have been like for a human to get down with an alien - someone of a different species, from another planet, for the first time?

Trek tends to take this sort of thing for granted, because they have so many inter-species relationships, but there had to have been a moment where the two consenting adults looked at each other naked for the first time and asked themselves, can I really go through with this?

We don't talk about this much because it smacks of bad fan fiction, particularly slash fic, where legions of DC Fontana wannabes indulge in their secret fantasies of Kirk & Spock, or any two characters who would never be depicted as lovers, making the beast with two backs. 

Given all this precedent, perhaps it was only a matter of time before somebody told a beauty-and-the-beast story that actually goes there, in a way that's neither exploitative nor shocking.

Enter Guillermo del Toro and The Shape of Water. For over a quarter century, the Mexican filmmaker has thrilled audiences worldwide with his scary monsters of all shapes and sizes, but this is the first time he's used one of them as part of a romantic love story, one in which the heroine does eventually play hide the salami with him. 

I don't think this is a spoiler, and even if it is, it's important to know in terms of understanding what sets this film apart from its predecessors.

GDT's monster here is basically the Creature from the Black Lagoon, webbed hands, gills, fins and all, portrayed by Doug Jones from the director's Hellboy movies (and Star Trek: Discovery). 

Water could be seen as an alternate take on the CBL if he had been captured by the government. While under observation in a private research facility, a mute cleaning lady becomes enamored with him. She helps him escape and things get complicated.

GDT places an emphasis on outsider characters: the mute woman, the black woman, the gay man, in a less tolerant period, the mid-to-late 50s. It's telling that he chose someone like Sally Hawkins as his heroine, Eliza; an actress who's... kinda pretty, I guess, but is no Scarlet Johansson by any stretch. We get to see a whole lot of her, though!

I have to say, I recognized more than a little of myself in Eliza, and it made me uncomfortable. It made me think of the times I didn't pursue love when I had the chance, or the times it didn't work out when I did.

By the time the movie ended, even though it was a happy ending, I still felt crushed, with a longing that may never get fulfilled; after all, there are no amphibious humanoids in this world, as far as I know.

Water is basically an erotic version of Splash. GDT included a number of touches uniquely his own, and the whole thing is rendered beautifully, but it also feels like an attempt to apply Rule 34 to CBL. Is 50 Shades to blame?

Also, Octavia Spencer is wasted here, playing the exact same role as in The Help; Michael Shannon is yet another nutter villain; and Richard Jenkins' gay best friend veers close to a stereotype. This isn't a perfect movie, but it did move me emotionally. Maybe that's all that counts.


  1. The mind zips over other movies when I see a trailer. Here I went to The Girl in The Seven Year Itch when she said (wistfully) of CBL: "He was kinda scary-looking, but he wasn't really all bad. I think he just craved a little affection - you know, a sense of being loved and needed and wanted." I'm not sure if I want to go beyond the thought. Easily disturbed? Lazy?

  2. The thought is a bit unsettling at first, I admit, but while Hawkins gets totally naked, we never see them do the deed. The overall emphasis is on romance. And Doug Jones' sea monster isn't as creepy as the CBL.

    Great choice of quote!


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