Cinephillia 005 | The Shape of Water
What I think I enjoyed the most about The Shape of Water is it’s melding of two old Hollywood genres, their accompanying tropes / cultural conceits and plays with them in way that no mainstream director has done before, to make a definitive statement thats fitting for our current political and social climate.
You can draw a clear line of influence from The Birth of a Nation to King Kong to The Creature from the Black Lagoon — classic Hollywood films that are ultimately about the fear of the other and the need of strapping white men to protect cultural standards of beauty/purity (white women) from monsters (immigrants, POC).
It’s not a stretch to see how marginalized groups, LGBTQ, POC, and also interracial couples as well, could empathize with more contemporary versions of those stories that subvert those tropes. You might think Beauty and the Beast counts here, and in a way it does, but the act of The Beast changing into an traditionally attractive man as a reward, disqualifies it in my eyes. Shrek comes closer but doesn’t fit the bill either.
This is what makes Del Toro’s Hellboy and The Shape of Water unique. The “monster,” never has to change and neither does their significant other. What they look like on the outside already matches what’s on the inside and is excepted and loved for it.
Del Toro has said many times that as kid, watching films like The Black Lagoon, and such, he always connected with the “beasts” of these stories more than he did with the human characters. So those parallels are not lost to him. Del Toro is obsessed with the idea of monsters as sympathetic characters — it’s one of the defining elements in his storytelling toolbox and what I take from him in my own writing.
The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale about misfits that exist on the margins of society. I can see why Del Toro chose to write a mute protagonist with a black female and gay man as supporting characters, taking place in the 1950’s during the height of civil rights activism.
The white male antagonist of the film has a line about how humans were made in God’s image and casually says to the black female supporting character that God looks more like him than he does her. Then there’s the subplot with the gay supporting character and a bartender he has a crush on, that I would rather not spoil.
But anyway...The Shape of Water is amazing. The cinematography, the practical effects, the costume and set design, the acting, the color palette and the score are all incredibly well realized in Del Toro’s signature passionate voice and meticulous attention to detail, on a meager 20 million dollar budget. It’s not for everyone (and no film should be in an ideal world) but it so very much deserved it’s Oscar win for film of the year.
The second (or first, I can’t decide) best film of 2017 for me.