The Shape of Water (2017)

Kimberly and Jane encounter a voiceless heroine whose heart screams loud and clear when she finds unconventional love with an underwater god misinterpreted as a monster. 

 One of my favorite things about what we are doing here with Double Mirror is the way we explore how our popular culture connects to our contemporary times. When an artist makes a painting, or a director makes a film, he or she is presenting their story. Yet, when we as an audience, read, watch, or view these pieces of art, we not only witness the creator’s story, we also bring our own experience to the mix and uncover pockets of revelation and resonation that not only connect to us personally but oftentimes also to society as a whole. In this way, our popular culture acts as a sort of mirror to our times.

 Exactly, and that is one of the greatest things about any form of art. It engages the viewer beyond mere entertainment. I like to think that our conversations here provoke interpretations that encourage the reader to reflect on what, perhaps, they didn’t see, and to join us in these reflections, and also, to consider their own. It brings a depth to the whole experience of engaging with art.

 The Shape of Water is a great example of this. I watched the film with my boyfriend, who didn’t quite get the hype. But once he heard your perspectives, and reflected on them for a day, he came back to me expressing how much more profound the movie now felt for him. I would love for you to share your keen insights about this film.

 There was so much about this film that touched me, a true treasure trove of inner meaning. I felt like Del Toro took a lot of old traditional ideas that have been deeply ingrained into the fabric of society and turned them on their head. For instance, simply looking at the story Beauty and the Beast. In that classic tale, we see a woman who takes the beast out of a man and humanizes him so that they can live happily ever after. But in Shape of Water, the beast actually teaches the woman to swim in his world, and that was profoundly interesting to me.

 Right, like maybe we aren’t supposed to fear the beast in man. Maybe it has something to teach us. And maybe, by not punishing this aspect of man, we will stop the proliferation of emasculated men who indeed end up turning into monsters as a form of repressive backlash.

 The other main theme was this recognition of society’s treatment of water. In this day and age, we are polluting our water sources as fast as we can. But, here is this god-like creature that comes up from the water with a healing ability to remind us that water is about restitution, regeneration, cleansing, and preserving humanity. I thought that was a powerful message.

 The water motif was meaningful to me as well. I am a huge student of dreams and I know that whenever we dream of water, or bodies of water, it represents a cleansing of the subconscious and a healing of deep, unconscious issues. Being underwater also represents the underworld, the place where our shadows reside. In this film, it was as if this monster was brought up from the shadows to indeed shine a light on society’s own shadows. We see this evil character in Michael Shannon, representing all of society’s ills, who is totally in conflict with this shadow being brought to light.

 Another thing that came to mind is the biblical tale of Samson and Delilah. In that story, Delilah betrays Samson. She gets him to tell her what his source of power is, and then she turns on him by telling the Philistines. Of course, at the end of that tale, Samson reclaims his power and upsets society. But in Shape of Water, our protagonist comes into knowledge of this water god’s power and ends up preserving that, and saving him. It is a completely different story, one of love over fear.

 She is truly a heroine for our times, going against the grain, and trailblazing a new narrative about not succumbing to societal pressure but doing what she feels is inherently right at all costs. How many of us run from our true power, or our ability to contribute to healing, or participate in true change, rather than remaining one with the status quo.

 That was the other amazing thing for me. Here’s a woman without a voice who is the lead driver of the story. It is revelatory when you think about the #metoo movement, which is basically driven by the transformation of silent, female voices into vehicles of massive cultural change.

 I also really loved the gay character that is sublimated in his sexuality and stunted in his life, really a person living in fear. Yet, when he comes face to face with the monster, he is able personally to invert his meekness into bravado.

 Yes, he goes through his own personal transformation and is liberated from his own deep creative block. His talent blossoms after being touched by this being that represents the healing in the shadows. But my favorite scene of all is when Sally Hawkins fills the bathroom with water in order to be able to make love with this creature. It doesn’t even occur to her whether or not this is an act that can physically happen. She is compelled from a heart space, a wanting, and she just acts upon those feelings without regard to outcome.

 Yes, this claiming of her sexual feelings and her deep, empathic womanhood is something I loved seeing. I want all women to go forward feeling like they can unabashedly claim a similar space for themselves. Bold, impassioned and brave. We need this for our women and for our world.

 We do, and I got the impression, as I watched the water dripping from that bathroom down into the movie theater below, that this signified a cleansing of all our old stories, our myths, and our narratives.

 Totally. Shape of Water presents a new love story, a new conservation story, and a new healing story for our times. We need this new.





3 thoughts on “The Shape of Water (2017)”

  1. Wonderful dialogue. I especially liked the ways you explored the transformational water motif, and connected it to our current challenges around the pollution of our waters. I recently heard the incredible marine biologist and deep-sea diver (who still dives at 82!) Sylvia Earle, speak about the necessity to become aware of what we blindly put into the ocean with catastrophic effects, especially plastic trash, as well as what we take away, the varied life of the ocean for consumption. But what really struck me, was her comment that while climate change, plastics and other pollutants are responsible for this tragedy; ignorance – willful or blind is the true cause and we must reflect, call ourselves to account.

  2. Great discussion of a really excellent film! I love the way it resonates with you both to different stories… one of my favorite things about this movie is that, in a way, it has been done before. “King Kong” comes to my mind immediately and even something like “Splash” — so we can feel safe in the monster/fish-out-of-water genre, but then it is offering so much new that it is a totally fresh look at modern culture as well.

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