When The Shape of Water was released I was unusually eager to see it. I’ve watched a number of Guillermo del Toro movies, and although I can’t say I’ve adored every single one, I certainly found them absorbing and often thought-provoking. I hadn’t read any of the reviews when I saw The Shape of Water, and still haven’t, so the views stated here are entirely my own. I did know however that The Shape of Water cost very little money to make by movie standards - probably less than some movie stars pick-up for headlining on a picture. From the pre-release blurb about the film I was led to expect something along the lines of a fifties Sci Fi B movie, cross-pollinated with some art-house touches. Yes, all these elements are there, however for myself, and for aforementioned wife, what came across most loud and clear to us was the film’s allegorical voice. I very much doubt whether this will become a ‘must-see’ film in the Trump White House, for it is a tale deeply ingrained with liberality and liberal values.
The story is set in Baltimore in 1962, at the height of the Cold War, presumably at a time before it was necessary to ‘Make America Great Again’. The central character, Eliza, played by Sally Hawkins, works as a cleaner along with her friend, Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, at some kind of secret military establishment. All the main characters in this movie are outsiders, outcasts even; Eliza is mute and Zelda is a down-trodden black woman; Eliza’s friend and neighbour, Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, is a lonely gay man. Eliza, we glean, has a fascination for water, and when an amphibious man, played by Doug Jones, is brought to the secret establishment where she and Zelda work as cleaners, she is immediately fascinated and starts to communicate with him through sign-language. There is a strongly subversive undertone in this movie, with its authority figures, a secret-service man Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon, and General Hoyt, played by Nick Searcy, shown to be corrupt, sadistic and decadent. These two share a powerful scene with some excellent dialogue about the quality of ‘decency’. Even the (normally) bad guy, a Russian agent posing as a research scientist, demonstrates more humanity and understanding than these bastions of the establishment.
I don’t do spoilers, so I’ve said more than enough already. I liked this film and can honestly say that I enjoyed watching every frame of it. At a moment in time when the voice of reaction seems to be getting louder and society’s ‘outsiders’ are accorded little value, I am delighted to watch a film, albeit a fantasy, that favours difference and diversity. My previous blog was a review of Into That Darkness by Gitta Sereny, who interviewed Franz Stangl in Dusseldorf prison shortly before his death; Stangl had been Kommandant of Treblinka, the Nazi death camp in Poland where approximately a milion ‘outsiders’ perished. As we came out of the cinema, Judith and I agreed that the Nazis would almost certainly have despised and banned this movie and labelled it decadent art.
So do please see it, if only to piss off a Nazi!