The Shape of Water
According to director Jack Arnold, his film The Creature From the Black Lagoon was about the fear that lurks beneath. Much the same could be said about Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, only what lurks beneath its surface is liberal hysteria.
Designed to embolden the idea that mankind, specifically male-dominated society, has no place in a benevolent cosmos, it’s set in Baltimore in 1962, where a mop-up princess is granted unlimited access to highly classified government experimental labs where she engages in an aquatic dalliance with a top secret specimen kept in a tank! It’s a fucked up romantic monster flick that amounts to what it might’ve been like for John Waters to make E.T. as a Busby Berkeley musical using the janitorial staff instead of bathing beauties!
Referred to as “The Asset,” the amphibian (played by Doug Jones) has been brought stateside from the Amazon to test his physical adaptability to assist astronauts for space travel?! Or, that’s the premise at least, but what the creature becomes is a representation of society’s downtrodden in America, both past and present.
Every single aspect of The Shape of Water relies on heavy-handed symbolism, so the viewer will reach the desired inevitability that Protestant white heterosexual men are oppressive bad guys! Black workers have to hide in smoke. Women are expected to be silent. Gay men are reduced to the shadows. And we’re supposed to accept that America is oppressive without comparing it to the rest of the world.
Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute custodian who looks as though she’s drowning from loneliness. She works for the inquisitorial, contemptuous head of operations named Strickland (Michael Shannon) – which is another completely heavy-handed designation: “strict” land. He’s your stereotypical bossman. He drives a Cadillac (a symbol of privilege) and carries a cattle prod (a symbol of “white” privilege as a reminder of riot batons used on civil rights demonstrators), and he wants to tear this creature apart, because as he puts it, “it’s not in the image of our Lord”! So without any intel at her disposal as to the benefits that might be gathered from studying the thing, Sally develops a rapport over eggs (read: heavy-handed symbol of fertility) and enlists her gay advertising artist neighbor and a co-worker to liberate “The Asset.”
You can almost hear them chanting “We shall overcome” as they get assistance from an unlikely fellow traveler: a communist spy!
Enter Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who has infiltrated this classified government installation under Soviet direction for him to inject the test subject with poison to kill it! His communist overlords don’t want it for themselves, they just don’t want the Americans to learn anything useful from studying it. But Hoffstetler has developed compassion for the creature; he sees a moral value in keeping it alive. Obviously he’s developed a moral conscience since Stalin’s show trials or the Soviet force starvation programs were carried out!
It would seem that The Shape of Water accepts that old adage that says, “Nobody is ALL bad (other than American men), even Stalin loved his children!” Which doesn’t explain why they defected first chance they got. BUT, my response to this movie is: why does it profess such a low standard of values by equating a kindness and compassion for this creature from a man who is perfectly okay working under the auspices of mass murderers? In this movie it’s the commie spy who is good and righteous, who is able to recognize the plight of the oppressed thing in the tank.
But even that is not enough.
In order for the audience to draw comparisons to this America some fifty years ago to today, the most heavy-handed and unnecessary scene takes place in a diner where Elisa’s neighbor, the gay artist, frequently eats.
The pie guy behind the counter resists the neighbor’s sexual advances, but to solidify that he’s not just some run-of-the-mill bigot he immediately denigrates a black couple hoping to sit at the lunch counter! Oh, he’s not just a bigot – he’s a REAL BIGOT!
And of course that sort of thing happened in the time period but it didn’t find itself into romantic monster movies back then!
Many who see this movie will swallow the sugarcoated bitter pill and accept it as just a fish-out-of-water tale while its political implications seep through the septic tank.
The Shape of Water is a cesspool of activist hand-wringing.