Movie Review : The Shape of Water (2017)
Eleven years ago, the Academy Awards finally rewarded iconic film director Martin Scorsese with the Oscar for Best Picture, which they hilariously avoided giving him for close to three decades. The Departed was not his best movie. It wasn't even the best movie in nomination, but the Academy made up for snubbing Raging Bull and Goodfellas among others. The same year, they almost completely ignored Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, widely considered to be his magnum opus.
This year, it is rumored the Academy will make it up to Del Toro by awarding him the Oscar for Best Picture for The Shape of Water. And they would be rewarding the least interesting movie in this year's competition.
The Shape of Water is the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) a mute maid that is conveniently not deaf. He vocal cords were surgically removed or something, leaving scars on her neck that... oh, look suspiciously like gills? Foreshadowing anyone? Elisa works on a military base, minding her own business until the day a weird fishman creature is brought along for obscure reasons that have to do with the cold war. At first, she pities the creature that's being treated cruelly by Michael Shannon's character (who really is playing Michael Shannon), but she soon falls in love with it and...eeeeew.
Let's talk about suspension of disbelief a little. I understand the whole fucking the Creature of the Black Lagoon thing is supposed to be an allegory for taboo love, interracial relationships, forbidden desires and things like that. But there are crucial elements either missing or completely overdone, which got between me and enjoyment of The Shape of Water:
1) The creature not only doesn't look human, it doesn't look any desirable. I need to understand what Elisa sees in this thing that goes beyond what she would see in a dog, otherwise I just figure she's a sex deviant and needs helps.
2) Nobody in that goddamn movie thinks Elisa's a sex deviant who needs help. Not even her neighbor, who pretends to be her best friend.
3) It would've been nice if Elisa only fell in love with the weird fishman in the laboratory and projected her feelings of loneliness and alienation on him. But no. She brings him home, FUCKS HIM and keeps him in captivity in her bath. Way to go breaking the magic.
4) I have no idea who the fuck all these soldiers were or what they wanted out of the weird fishman thing. For all I know, they were just a giant MacGuffin that was supposed to make Elisa and Fishman's relationship feel more urgent and forbidden than it already way.
5) Couldn't Guillermo Del Toro have made Elisa deaf too? If you're going to make your protagonist handicapped, make her fucking handicapped. Not poetically handicapped.
I'm sure you've figured it out already, but I'm not a fan of Guillermo Del Toro's cinema. He's a shtick guy. He's got that pseudo-goth shtick where characters either find love and acceptance or learn valuable life lessons in dark fantasy settings, and if you don't like that he's got nothing else for you. The Shape of Water is the most extreme expression of Del Toro's solipcistic monster fantasies, where he transgresses boundaries in the most boringly aesthetic way possible. It feels like he watched Guinea Pig's famous cult horror movie Mermaid in the Manhole and decided to make it beautiful and mainstream. The Shape of Water wants to be transgressive, but it's edgeless, hastily put together and not all that relatable.
The hosts of the Almost Good podcast David James Keaton and J. David Osborne said in their Shape of Water episode, that the script looked like it was unedited. It makes a lot of sense to me that no one in the process of making The Shape of Water ever said no to Guillermo Del Toro and, you know, this is an important part of writing a great story. It has to be great for others too. But, it's like Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels once said: "the bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." The Shape of Water is not good. Don't believe it is because there are million-dollar promotion campaigns saying that it is behind it. And, for the love of everything that's beautiful, don't give it the Oscar for Best Picture.
We're collectively better than that.