I was able to finally get the opportunity to see Guillermo Del Torro's newest film, and I'm so, so happy I did. Of course, I'm not exactly going against the grain when I say that this is Del Torro's best, most emotional film since Pan's Labyrinth. Review sites from across the web are praising the film, as well they should. I could go on for paragraphs about the vivid, Bioshock feel mixed in with that Del Torro staple of color and life in every set. I could talk your ear off about the seamless storytelling, and the ease with which Del Torro convinced the audience that yes, this woman wants to bang the creature from the black lagoon. All without taking way from the alien qualities a huminoid fish person would obviously have. But what really hit the nail on the head for me as to why this film was so immeasurably good is because it is the right time to make it.
Allow me to expand on that thought first with an anecdote. I wasn't planning on seeing The Shape of Water, or anything, really. My dad was the one who wanted to go to the movies. First, he tried to get me to see The Darkest Hour, a biopic about Winston Churchill played by the great Gary Oldman. I declined initially and suggested TSoW as one of the two substitutes. My reasoning for not wanting to see TDH, as great as it may be, was because there's a new WWII film every six months. How many times are the allies going to kill Nazis, I mean, really? But unknown to me before seeing the film, that was only part of the reason why TDH didn't appeal to me.
In 1939 when Europe exploded into Hellfire, Winston Churchill was the person the world needed to see. His accomplishments and victories helped defeat one of the biggest world crises in the last century; he's very much deserving of the acclaims. Likewise to Gary Oldman, who I'm sure will pull plenty of nominations for what I can only assume is a show-stopping role.
But we don't need Winston Churchill in 2018. We don't need an alcoholic, upper class white man saving the day by the skin of his teeth. We don't need the hero song we've heard over and over again like a broken record.
We need the weird. We need the defective. We need misfits and outcasts and broken people who find hope, and friendship, and love, against all odds.
Everything about TSoW is crucial to our understanding of current affairs. The time period, 1962, is smack dab in a world of civil unrest and injustice. Our heroine is a big nosed, atypical looking (for Hollywood's standards, to be clear; I thought she was adorable), passionate mute. Her best friend is a 60+ year old gay artist who has too many cats. Her closest coworker and friend is a frumpy, loose lipped black woman just trying to live day to day. The love interest is Abe Sapien's socially inept, bio-luminescent cousin. But what really ties it all together is the villain, who, for me, was the most enjoyable part of the film just because of how perfectly, realistically scummy he was. And in the interest of my feminist, bleeding-hearted-liberal agenda, I am eager to dissect TSoW's antagonist more than anything else.
Richard Strickland (he's literally Dick Strict) is the perfect portrayal of the toxic, authoritative, expectant white man of the 60's. He thinks that washing your hands more than once is a sign of weakness. He has a sickeningly picturesque family and a wife willing to tend to his every need. He literally prefers his women to be completely silent, and his weapon of choice – an overpowered cattle prod – is the most phallic thing in the picture. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Other times, it's a big, pulsating penis waved around from a place of privilege. Early on in the film, Strickland loses his pinky and ring finger on his left hand. Rather than keeping them amputated and healed properly, or even getting prosthetics, Strickland has the doctors surgically reattach them to keep up appearances. They become blacker and more putrid as the movie continues. Rather than succumb to “weakness,” Strickland would rather have part of his body literally rot away.
If Kylo Ren is the 20 something, privileged asshole who harasses women online, Richard Stickland is the disgusting boss who tells his secretaries to wear something lower cut and has Harvey Weinstein on speed dial.
I read in an article recently that Guillermo Del Torro has made a career on rooting for the monsters, a career that I personally have enjoyed since I first saw Hellboy. More than that, he understands the need for us to love the monsters, and misfits, and outcasts of this world. For this is where the soul of humanity makes its home.
If you have a chance to see The Shape of Water, I highly recommend it.