My take on…The Shape of Water

My take on…The Shape of Water

Before I get into plot details (and I’ll give you a Spoiler Alert before I do), I’ll give you some general impressions.

First,

The Shape of Water

did pass what I call my “flashback test”. By that I mean that I spontaneously thought of the movie in the days after I’d seen it. Many movies and TV shows down pass it. I see it, and if I consciously think about it, I remember it…but it doesn’t just bubble up on its own. “Bubbling” is a good thing: it means that the movie/TV show is still being processed by my brain. 🙂

Second, it was visually striking…I would expect it to get nominated for Art Direction, quite possibly for Costumes, and maybe even Cinematography.

Third, Sally Hawkins was impressive, and deserves the plaudits she’s been getting.

Fourth, though, I had some issues with the script…which requires the

SPOILER ALERT

Guillermo Del Toro, who directed the movie and co-wrote the screenplay with Vanessa Taylor (who, among other things, has written episodes of Game of Thrones), has described TSoW as a “fairy tale”.

I think that’s reasonable.

Fairy tales are great, but they aren’t known for character subtlety…especially in the case of the villains. You don’t wonder about the motivations of the Big Bad Wolf, or if maybe the Wicked Stepmother has a point about Cinderella’s behavior.

That’s how it is with Michael Shannon’s Richard Strickland character in The Shape of Water. He is simply, uncomplicatedly evil…cartoonishly so (and that’s not a knock on cartoons). That’s also not a criticism of Michael Shannon’s performance…he’s fine in the part. It’s the way the part is written, and the way the movie is (expertly) directed. It’s what GDT wanted it to be.

It made me less involved in the movie…while we don’t know exactly what he’s going to do, there’s never any mystery about his feelings.

I also had some issues with how the Gill-Man was handled. It looked great, especially the blinking eyes. I’m a fan of the original Creature from the Black Lagoon movies (I’ve watched them many times, both in 3-D and flat). This isn’t about contrasting the two, and I’m confident that I did go in with an open mind. I’m fine with many versions of the same story and characters.

My concerns here were primarily two.

The moral of the story seems to primarily be about acceptance of different intelligences…from the differently abled to different sexual preferences to Soviet Russians.

We are also supposed to accept the Gill-Man.

We can…he’s a sympathetic character. I also felt sympathy for the original Gill-Man, but I’m probably a bit unusual on that…for that matter, I felt sad for the Metaluna Mutant from This Island Earth. 😉

My concern here is that the Gill-Man is given magical healing powers (they aren’t supposed to be magical, I presume, but they function that way). That changes the message from “Be tolerant of those who are different from you…respect their differences” to “Be tolerant of those who are different from you…because they might be able to heal your baldness.” It’s not just about intrinsic value…it’s about practical value.

The other thing was that killing a thinking being (even one who might be a “monster”) is shown in the movie as a casual, appropriate thing. I understood why something different from that was shown earlier, but I didn’t think the sentient’s death was necessary or that it enhanced the message.

By the way, I’m also seeing this described as “What if the Gill-Man had a willing partner, rather than an unrequited love?” In the 1954 movie, I don’t think most people would describe the Gill-Man’s intent as love. In this movie, it’s Sally Hawkin’s Elisa who is the initiator, not the Gill-Man.

Finally, and you can tell that I’m dancing around some plot points, even with the alert, there was a foreshadowing element where I guessed what would happen later. My favorite thing in entertainment is to be surprised, and I just wasn’t on that one.

I also want to mention: the R-rating is for sexual content primarily. There is violence, and some minor language, but I’m sure that was it. A sexualized Gill-Man did appear, sort of, in the “Carl Dreadstone” (house name) 1977 novelization of the 1954 movie, but not like this.

END SPOILER ALERT

I’ll be clear: I agree with many of the Oscar nominations. I thought it was well-directed, well designed, and there was strong acting. There was a sub-plot I thought was particularly well-drawn. I think GDT realized his vision…I just wish he had seen some things a bit differently; but then that wouldn’t have been his vision.

My last thought: Michael Shannon should be in a biopic about Boris Karloff. 🙂 I got some similar vibes…that world weary sense of some (especially later) roles of Karloff, and I would say there is some facial similarity. Just an idea… 🙂


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