Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Shape of Water [2017]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB ()  RogerEbert.com (2 1/2 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review
RogerEbert.com (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

The Shape of Water [2017] (directed, story and screenplay cowritten by Guillermo del Toro along with Vanessa Taylor), largely set in a top-secret American Cold War era lab in the 1950s needs to be understood in the context of Guillermo del Toro's similarly magical-realist and similarly visceral Pan's Labyrinth [2006].  If Pan was an clear, utterly unambiguous condemnation of Spain's Franco era, the current film is a similarly utterly unambiguous rejection of the "Make America Great Again" mythology of the current Trump Administration.   For most of us understand this past era of "American Greatness" to be the United States of the 1950s, and here the Mexican-born director insists, indeed DEMANDS, that Viewers take A LONG LOOK at that era and ask themselves honestly: What exactly made THAT ERA "great?"

For in this film, a remarkable and sentient "Frog Man" brought to this "top secret American lab" (from apparently "the Amazon") IN AN INDUSTRIAL WATER TANK AND IN _CHAINS_ was being "studied" (tortured!) by utterly and intellectually LAZY "military scientists" (played by Michael Stuhlbarg and Michael Shannon) shielded from any kind of scrutiny by multiple-layers of "classified secrecy."

The ONLY ONES besides these "military scientists" (and, interestingly "the Soviets") who knew that this creature even existed were the "serving staff" (cleaning ladies) that is "people who didn't matter" including African American Zelda Fuller (played by Octavia Spenser) and a deaf-mute woman named Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins).  And in the "logic of the Cold War" the ONLY THING that seemed to matter was to "protect" knowledge of discovery of this (being TORTURED) "frogman" from "The Soviets" (who of course knew all about it and were busy plotting ways TO SIMPLY KILL THE "FROG MAN" so as to deprive the Americans of "their prize").

Wow, what a "Great Era?"  And lest there be any doubt of the writer / director's intention to DRIVE A STAKE INTO THE HEART OF THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS "NOSTALGIC MEMORY" OF THAT ERA, there's a scene in a diner in which one of those torturing "military scientists," himself a tortured closeted gay man, tries to "pick-up" one of the serving hands at said diner, only to be horrifically rejected (the male-waiter responds _hysterically_ to the gay, tortured scientist's advance) BUT NOT BEFORE the waiter CHASES OUT A NICE. WELL-DRESSED AFRICAN AMERICAN MARRIED COUPLE THAT HAD THE AUDACITY OF WANTING TO SIT AT DINER'S COUNTER.  "All the seats are reserved," the waiter yells at them (the place except for the tortured gay, military scientist, getting-up the courage to hit-on said waiter, WAS EMPTY).  "Well, for when can we get a reservation?" the couple asks.  "I don't know, for you, I'd probably say ... never."


Now, the film Mud Bound [2017], canvases similar ground and also, by the end, quite unforgettably.  I suppose the question that potential Viewers of the current film ought to ask themselves before attending it would be: Will the 1950s-era Sci-Fi-ish aesthetics of the current film be "distracting" to you?  Arguably, the film is a contempoary retelling of The Creature From the Black Lagoon [1954].  If the potential Viewer who wouldn't mind the somewhat corny aesthetics (and the hammer-over-the-head thematics), chances are that the potential Viewer would very much like the film.  If not, then ...

In any case, this is a well-thought-out and brilliantly executed "magical realist" / "scify-ish" fable.  It's not for everyone, but few could really accuse it of being "dumb."  And it's certainly one of the most compelling films of the year.

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