I can’t stop thinking about The Shape of Water
The newly crowned Best Picture of 2017 is by far the strangest movie I can remember winning that prize, but moreover I can’t think of a movie in the past that has been as well regarded and yet so…odd.
Called by some “an adult fairy tale” Guillermo del Toro’s film about a mute woman who falls in love with a literal sea monster (Doug Jones) is a really strange journey of a movie. All of the performances are stellar, it’s beautifully made and has all of the hallmarks of a good movie. Until the plot starts and it becomes this fantastical story about hard boiled eggs and inter-species love.
I genuinely don’t understand why this movie resonated the way it did. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is interesting, and her line to Giles (Richard Jenkins) that the fish-man doesn’t know that she is incomplete is affecting enough. And Giles’ entire story as a closeted man in the 50s is heartbreaking- especially when juxtaposed with the main plot, but none of it really goes anywhere.
The film never really becomes more special or interesting than its core premise- and that premise is honestly not interesting so much as it’s weird. del Toro trades in the fantastical, and I can usually get into that fantasy world. And, the idea of a romance between beings from different worlds is not bothersome to me- I get that can be a commentary on identity and how love transcends barriers. It’s the fact that this fantastical story takes place in this otherwise wholly mundane universe that feels so jarring. And the fact that none of the other characters really questions it is really odd. If you were living in this world and your co-worker told you that she was having an emotional and sexual relationship with a fish man, you would have far more questions and concerns than these people ever express. It’s entirely “Ok, you do you” from these people which adds to the general wrongness of this movie.
All this is not even mentioning the completely useless and unnecessary spy subplot that fully goes nowhere.
Look, The Shape of Water
is a fine movie. It’s a great example of “Magical realism” breaking through to the mainstream, and if this film winning an Oscar is what it takes to make more niche and genre films gain wider regard then I guess it’s a win on a lot of levels. But I just don’t understand why this was the one, why did this hit. What appealed to people, critics, and most confusingly Oscar voters – a group of people who rarely make decisions that are outside the box? I don’t get it.