Not a Review: The Shape of Water

At First
At first I did not want to see it.

For one thing, I don’t like science-fictiony things or fantasy-things or scary-things – which are all -things I know Guillermo del Toro is known for.

Also: Sally Hawkins has never been someone I enjoy watching – she usually creeps me out as much as Amanda Plummer does, and that’s no small feat. (I wonder why Amanda Plummer was never cast in the movie about Diane Arbus? I think Diane Arbus would be the role Amanda Plummer could nail and never have to make another movie to stay famous.)

And then the girl who sold the tickets to see the movie to my friend and me stated: “This movie is extremely rated R. If you want to leave within the first thirty minutes, come to the counter and we’ll give you a ticket for another movie.”

We were stunned! Then really, really curious.

In the end it all turned out okay. But to me the whole thing was a bumpy ride, for many reasons. (No spoilers ahead.)

The Title
From the very first moment I heard the title of this movie I wanted to say it back as The Weight of Water. I guess because of the long “a” sound. And the water. Then, somehow, Like Water for Chocolate pops into my head, and that made me think of the novel Water for Elephants. And just about any time I have to think about elephants I remember the old flash animation using Luciano Pavarotti’s vocals and visual redirection to make one “mishear” what he is singing. (Watch “Pavarotti Loves Elephants” for yourself.)

Cognitive Dissonance re the Soviets
The movie is set during the Cold War, and because it involves a secret government-run lab, there had to be Soviet spies thrown into the mix. However, del Torro made it purposely confusing, playing on our sympathy for the creature from the South American Lagoon by making the Soviet spy sympathetic to the creature, too.

So it almost seemed like Communist propaganda, except that we live in the age of post-Communist, Putin-run Russia, which seems, for reasons I refuse to start discussing here, much, much worse than the Soviet Union we imagined before the fall of Communism.

My brain was in knots – knots, I tell you! – over this.

Good News: Many Oppressed Groups Represented
This whole movie was about repression and oppression, and used the broadest strokes possible to underline this. Just a few of the groups represented:

  • Gays
  • Blacks
  • Sensitive Soviet spies
  • Mute people
  • Necrotic fingers
  • Sea Monsters

The Color Green
Green was thrown around as a symbol everywhere in this film. Some of the smaller green things included Jell-O, Key Lime Pie, and boxes of candy. When I googled this, it was posited that green represented the future throughout the movie. I think green represented the future, all right, but disappointment with the future. It seems like every time green showed up, someone was sure to be let down about something within ten or fifteen minutes.

Which is better than someone dying every time an orange appears on the screen, right?

Visually Stunning
No matter what I liked or did not like about this film, it was absolutely gorgeous to look at. It brought into my mind, especially during the rainy scenes, a book called The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry. The book has a (literally) dreamy quality, and all the action takes place in a city existing under a sort of supernatural dimness while it keeps raining and raining.

My plea to Guillermo del Toro: if anyone ever makes a movie version of The Manual of Detection (as a reader, this isn’t something I would petition or cheer for) please let it be you.

If This Were a Review

  • On a star-system I would rate this three out of five
  • On a thumb-system it would get an ambivalent thumbs-up
  • On a scale of one to ten it would get a 5.75 from me
  • If I were rating its cheese-factor its weight would be 8 pounds of the kind of cheese the moon is made from (That’s green, too, isn’t it?)