Friday, 22 December 2017

The Shape of Water (2017)

What struck me early on into writer/director Guillermo Del Toro's fantasy love story The Shape of Water, is how he plays with what is fantasy and what is reality. He sets his tale in a stylized 1950s America and it has all the hallmarks of the time and place, the culture and the people. This is the time when America was supposedly great, a time many conservative Americans long for. He focuses his story on the outcasts, those who didn't get to be part of the greatness, to show just how monstrous that supposed greatness is.

The Shape of Water is in many ways a love story, but it is also a critique of the American dream, the American myth, of American empire by showing us just how few got to be part of it, and how monstrous that empire truly was.

Del Toro's almost Burton-esque 1950s is beautifully lived in and richly dirty. It's not parody suburban 50s like many films that venture into this territory, it is more a tribute. The film is examining the way Americaness is positioned against the other. And in that world he places the disabled, the homosexual, the negro, the communist, the feminine, and shows us the inherent beauty in all that is supposedly "unamerican." He shows us the ugliness of American culture which rejects all that isn't silent when it is supposed to be.

And at the heart of his critique is the opposite, a beautiful love story. We are shown how something which we've been told is grotesque is truly gorgeous. We are asked to flip all that we understand to embrace some more, something which threatens who we are, and asks us to see why that is necessary.

Del Toro's morality fable is beautiful both visually and emotionally. His strong cast makes the whole legend work as does the incredible art direction. I love films which give me a reason to watch them, to see all their glory. Del Toro's "asset" isn't the only strikingly beautiful thing about the film. He follows in a long line of artists who have shown us to see what makes beauty, often in the very things we are told are monstrous.

The Shape of Water
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg
Writer/Director: Guillermo Del Toro

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