ePaper

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

When fantasy explains reality

  • Print

Zarin Rafiuddin explores the multi-narrative structure of the movie

The Oscar winner for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Production Design in the 90th Annual Academy Awards was Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (2017). The Shape of Water is a fantasy film set during the cold war period of the United States of America, written by Guillermo del Toro along with Vanessa Taylor. Guillermo is not a stranger to fantasy, haven been awarded before for Pan's Labyrinth (2006) which won three Academy Awards.

The movie's narrative is a polyphonic one. It talks about the emotional bond between Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor working in a high security research facility in Baltimore in 1962, and an "Asset", an Amphibian Humanoid Man, who is captured to be studied. Elisa cannot speak and the Amphibian-Man does not understand our language yet they communicate through kindness and general respect for one another.

From the onset of the film, Elisa (Sally Hawkins) merely has two friends. One is Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), her African-American colleague, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa's closeted gay neighbour, who draws advertisements for companies. Elisa is underestimated everywhere she goes due to her lacking the ability to speak. She was an orphan found as a baby with wounds in her neck.

This damage disallows her to speak. Yet, she is intelligent, observant and open-minded. Zelda usually helps conveys her voice to other people as she can understand some of her sign language and Giles seems adept in it as well. From the beginning of the film, Mr. Director wants us to see the sparkle and charisma that Elisa has for her life, which Hawkins delivers beautifully. She is shown to go to the cinema, yearn for beautiful red shoes and also converse with Giles on various topics.

Then Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) captures an Amphibian-man (Doug Jones) from South America and brings him to the facility. Strickland is crude to everyone and anyone around him. He treats Elisa with contempt and shows racist attitudes towards Zelda. Strickland strictly accentuates that the Amphibian-man is an animal, a creature with no value and is meant to be used to help further America's competition with Russia for the 60's Space Race.

He even states that some South American people revered the Amphibian-man as a god and that no god would look as that, hinting god looks like a Caucasian man. He tortures the Amphibian man hoping to succeed in climbing up the government's career ladder. He also starts bullying and obsessing over Elisa, leading to many uncomfortable scenes in the film.

Initially, the Amphibian-Man is sceptical of Elisa when she tries to befriend him. She finds him fascinating as an individual and respects him as such. Soon, they communicate by listening to music records and eating the same foods. This time is short lived seeing that Strickland wishes to dissect the Amphibian-man for further research. Elisa pleads with Giles to help her free him from such a fate. To her, the Amphibian-Man is her friend and he does not underestimate her, hurt her or bully her.

To him, she is an equal, not simply a mute woman. The Amphibian-man and Elisa take refuge in her home and they start becoming closer. Soon, the relationship becomes romantic and physical. In an extended trailer with director commentary, found from Rave Fox, Del Toro explains the Amphibian-man is an ancient being who is masculine and is supposed to look physically attractive as a Toreador (bull-fighter). Understandably, the physical chemistry between Elisa and the Amphibian-man is accentuated through their mutual love and respect for one another.

As aforementioned, the narrative is polyphonic. Through the Amphibian-man Elisa can show her confident, strong, sexual and intelligent self, which usually people ignore to see in her. The Amphibian-man also strengthens the closeness that Zelda and Elisa have. Elisa is shown to be in a somewhat abusive marriage where her husband treats her as a servant. It is her kinship with Elisa that makes her counter her husband's sexism and misogyny and cherish her sisterhood with Elisa, as her most prized relationship.

The Amphibian-man also allows Giles to believe in himself again. Spurned by his crush due to homophobia, he finds acceptance and love from the Amphibian-man, who does not oust him for his gay identity. Rather, the Amphibian-man seems to comprehend slightly that Giles is miserable and lonely and he genuinely understands the pain of being an outsider from both his and Zelda's perspectives.

My only complaint is that despite the Amphibian-man being almost like a deity and having a collection of abilities, he is still a conduit for storytelling rather a character in his own right. It is true he loves and cares for Elisa but he is still a mystery. At times, this reviewer wanted to know more of his own thoughts and what he thought of human society.

This is crucial, seeing in his native culture he is a god, whereas in the United States he is treated as an aberration, lesser than domesticated animals. It should probably strike the Amphibian-man as curious that two sets of civilizations have such vast differences. He does show awe and even confusion when some of the characters act strange around him but these are liminal scenes.

Overall, The Shape of Water is an excellent film, which depicts that speech is not the only form of communication. That emotional bonds can happen with two people willing to respect and cherish one another. It is also a film that gives voices to the outsiders of society who are oppressed by orthodoxy, sexism, racism and queerphobia. However, the film is for a mature audience as it contains graphic language, sexual scenes, scenes of sexual harassment and depictions of torture. The Shape of Water utilises fantasy to be a narrative that shows many characters and have their voices be heard.


The reviewer is working with The Asia Age

More News For this Category

Writings on the 1947 Partition

| By
Nausheen RahmanI have just finished reading "Footprints on Zero Line: Writings on the Partition", and I feel that my day was truly well-spent. This
Writings on the 1947 Partition

The game comes to life in this cinematic experience

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
Tomb Raider (2018) is a reboot film to the franchise, which once starred Angelina Jolie as the titular character of Lara Croft.  Alicia Vikander is the new, younger
The game comes to life in this cinematic experience

Pops by Michael Chabon: A quiet look at fatherhood and writing

| By and Mark O\'Connell
Pops, the American novelist Michael Chabon's new collection of essays on parenthood and related matters, begins with an anecdote about attending a literary gathering at the beginning of
Pops by Michael Chabon: A quiet look at fatherhood and writing

A movie dealing with the failures and dreams of growing up

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
Lady Bird (2017) is a different kind of coming-of-age story directed and written by Greta Gerwig. The eponymous Lady Bird, or Christine "Lady Bird" McPherson (Saoirse Ronan) is
A movie dealing with the failures and dreams of growing up

Last Stories by William Trevor: A final treat

| By
A few years ago, a friend gave me a two-volume, hardcover edition of William Trevor's The Collected Stories as a Christmas present. It's one of the most treasured
Last Stories by William Trevor: A final treat

Rampage movie adaptation is one fun movie

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
Rampage (2018) is a movie where giant creatures clash at one another as they are endowed with rage and aggression. The movie stars as Dwayne Johnson (The Rock)

Why Ruth Ware's new thriller is a classic

| By and Maureen Corrigan
Why Ruth Ware's new thriller is a classicMaureen Corrigan A classic never goes out of style. Consider the confident simplicity of the dry martini, the Edison lightbulb and

Beyond the Breakwater by Catherine Foley: A humble memoir

| By
Pat McCabe has a lot to answer for. The class messer of Irish literature has altered forever how we read rural Irish memoirs. His evisceration of the central

Deadpool 2 full of graphic humor and adrenalin

| By and Zarin Rafiuddin
Deadpool 2 (2018) is the direct sequel to the Deadpool (2016), featuring the mutant Wade Wilson, also known as Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds). The movie was directed by David
Deadpool 2 full of graphic humor and adrenalin

Black Star Renegades is a loving homage to Star Wars

| By
Stop me if you've heard this one before. A young man discovers that he's destined for greater things in the galaxy, joins a mysterious, semi-religious order that act
Black Star Renegades is a loving homage to Star Wars

© 2018 The Asian Age