Part 1 – Love as utopia
A dumb woman, a black woman, a gay friend and a racist colonel
Baltimora 1962. Elisa Esposito, a charwoman, works for the OCCAM, the aerospace research centre. Elisa lives alone in a small flat above a movie theatre. Her neighbour Giles is her best friend. They share an interest in Hollywood musicals and sometimes they make up a little tip tap. She is dumb, he is gay. They use sign language to communicate. Elisa’s favourite colleague is Zelda, she is overweight and she is black. Colonel Strickland has recently taken control of the aerospace centre. water
“Are you an only child? It’s unusual for your people”, the detestable soldier said to Zelda during the interview, underlining an alleged trend of African-American people to have a lot of children. “God probably looks more like me, not like you” he adds. The Italian surname is another easy target duck for his suggestions: “Esposito means orphan, doesn’t it? Actually, the main female character of The shape of water was found in the water, close to a river. Someone cut her vocal cords when she was a child. Thanks to this film Guillermo del Toro won The Golden Lion at the latest Venice Film Festival.
…however, love conquers all!
The creature captured by Strickland during an expedition in Amazonia was found in the water too. These are the cold war years and an hybrid creature which is able to live both in the water and on land may be a hidden weapon against the enemy. The aim is to study its feature. The creature is not sub missive, in fact it brakes off two colonel’s fingers at the first occasion; this is the reason why from that moment on the colonel tortures the creature, since it offers him a sadistic pleasure. The strange creature is very soon discovered by Elisa. What might happen in a fairy tale in which there is a lost girl who feels alone and a humanoid monster which has been ripped from its homeland in the amazonian forest by cruel uniformed human beings? Your answer is correct: They fall in love.
Del Toro, the director, (The Reading N.322) has shown the reason why he made this film using these words:” In my opinion it is something very simple to explain: I see you. I see myself in you. And we take the shape one of the other. The title belongs to this idea, water is a very powerful element, it is pliable and it can become as strong as rock. Water takes the shape of the host object. Exactly as love does. Ideology is not important, you may love a person of another religion, a person of the same sex, a person with another skin or a person belonging to a different ethnic group. Or maybe you may love a monster. When you fall in love, you fall in love and that’s all.” Not without reason the film came out on 14 February, St Valentine’s day. Is everything clear?
The answer of a successful Mexican director to Trump
Visually, The shape of water is a very beautiful film, as well other movies of the Mexican director, notably, The devil backbone, 2001, and Pan’s labyrinth,2006. The underwater sequence is a very surreal and dreamlike end. Sally Hawkins’ acting (Elisa), together with Richard Jenkins’ (Giles), Octavia Spencer (Zelda), Michael Shannon (Strickland) and above all Doug Jones’ acting, who is imprisoned in the creature’s body are flawless.
However, we are not going to talk about the movie in itself, or about its undeniable stylistic and writing qualities; we would like to talk about the weight of this movie, in the light of the Festival’s awards and in the light of all the other awards won all over the word, such as thirteen Academy Award nominations. Del Toro has underlined why he set the movie during the “golden years of the American history”. In that period the Dream of the New Frontier was still alive, however, it was already put in danger under the attack of a crawling racism and of a spread intolerance, “these are issues still alive nowadays”: The Shape of water wants to be an “antidote to cynicism”. In other words, it is another cultural answer to Trump, it is the result of a successful Mexican producer who has become a contemporary gothic film symbol, thanks to its movies. No wall can keep creativity and ideas. If they work they can reach each corner of the globe.
A human monster versus a monstrous human being
There are also very clear contents which are worth of a more detailed analysis. First of all, the creature. It is monstrous but not enough, it can’t understand the human beings, but if it is respected it becomes more submissive, it is an amphibian but also a humanoid. It is not something awfully different, it is not irremediably far from human being. It is not an alien; by contrast, it could be better defined a stranger. It has occult powers such as healing the wounds or to get the hair grown with a touch of a hand; these are abilities in which we can see a sort of empathy, a connecting bridge between wildness and men. The creature which enters the sequences has already been saved. All the minorities work together in order to save the creature from the colonel’s clutches: the loving dumb, the fat black woman and the unemployed homosexual.
No doubt the latter group wins the battle. Elisa empathizes with the monster taking every one with her. On the other side, Michael Shannon is the perfect example of middle W.A.S.P . (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant), he is the perfect fascist right-wing champion, today as during that period. At home a blonde wife is waiting for him, he sits on a flaming Cadillac which a car dealership sells him with the slogan “this is the future men’s car”, and boundless arrogance towards his subordinates completes the picture. “You are those who collect shit and clean the piss up” the colonel said to the charwomen who are interviewed about the prisoner’s escape. He want to put out of his head the idea that such inferior people could plot a winning escape plan. It reminds me a Philip K. Dick’s short story entitled Human is . What does it mean to be “human beings”? Who can be worth of this title?
In the second part we will try to understand if the liberal feeling related to minorities could be a useful political message which can be used in the Trump’s era political debate.
ALEXEIN & AMY
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