Are There Lesbians?
A mute woman falls in love with a fishman and plots his escape from the
science facility where he is being held.
The Shape of Water is a truly beautiful and moving film. I was a little surprised at how much I loved it. I was expecting it to be a little more kitschy, a little more ridiculous and old-timey over-the-top than it was. Instead, I spent most of the movie with my mouth hanging open in awe at the visual and emotional spectacle I was being put through.
This is a film where the non-human creature is not monstrous. He is terrifying yes but he is beautiful and dignified despite the pain he is put through. In The Shape of Water it is the humans who are the monsters. The most terrifying part is that it is a monstrosity which is all too recognisable. The film shows a monstrosity that looks down on people who work in service or who are disabled, as well as the casual othering of those who are a different race or queer. Empathy is created for the creature by placing him as “one of us,” one of the downtrodden, cast-aside and ignored. And yet like the proverbial “us” he is powerful and capable of anything because of being overlooked. One of my favourite parts of the movie came after the creature is rescued and the security officer is telling Colonel Strickland that it must have been the work of at least ten highly trained operatives. The audience knows, of course, that this was not the case. It was two cleaning ladies, a scientist and an out-of-work artist.
Colonel Strickland is terrifying in that he is recognisable. My skin crawled as he said he prefers women who cant speak. His whole manner echoed the notion that women should just be quiet and stay in the kitchen. He is just like many men who came before him, and just like many now who somehow are managing to become even more vocal. This violence isn’t just relegated to women however, as Strickland despises anyone who is beneath him, and he views everyone as beneath him. Unsurprisingly, it is Strickland and his superior officer who are the most in favour of killing the creature to gain all the information they can from it. It is not, as is so often the case in films, the scientist, Dr. Hoffstetler, who wishes to destroy it. Rather, Dr. Hoffstetler is in favour of keeping it alive to study it, and actively argues against killing the creature. It is almost surprising how rare this is, and speaks to the importance of good science.
The Shape of Water is, at its core, a romantic movie. It is the answer to the question we often ask in monster movies – what if the creature and the woman he loves had a happy ending? Yes, there is plenty of sexual content but at no point does it feel excessive. There are many shots of Elisa’s naked body but they do not feel sexualised. The camera doesn’t linger licentiously on her curves, instead we are given full body shots of… a woman’s body. In the same vein there are shots of her masturbating in the bath as part of her morning routine and, while shocking in its unexpectedness it was extremely welcome. This is actually the first time I’ve seen female masturbation portrayed in a mainstream film and, much like the nudity, it did not feel voyeuristic or even particularly sexual. It was portrayed as part of her morning routine, just another thing to do. Also, yes, Elisa does fuck the fish but that being said, the first time, it is dealt with a tasteful pan away and is portrayed as a very tender and romantic moment. The second was another of my favourite scenes (I have so many, it was so wonderful) where Elisa floods the bathroom for the creature and the water leaks onto moviegoers in the cinema below.
I could give a scene-by-scene run-through of The Shape of Water and explain what I love about both the story and the cinematography in each instance but I think instead I will just tell you to go see it for yourself. You will not be disappointed.