“The Shape of Water” is Brilliant, Elegant, and Disturbing

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By Kevin Price, National News Editor, USADC.

This review has spoiler alerts. 

The Shape of Water won the Best Picture Oscar and was all the buzz during the Award Season.  It sounded very unusual, but I like to at least try to be open minded.  My wife and I recently watched it at home.

As soon as I turned it on I got lost in the aesthetics of it — it is a brilliant film with amazing cinematography that beckons back to an earlier time in film — one I grew up with. It reminds me of the films I watched that were in black and white of a sci-fi nature in the 1960s, but this added a splash of color, that made it more engaging.  The setting of the stage and the movement of the actors gave it the feel of the type of show one watches performed live.  It was very compelling. It is the type of film that is hard to watch after you start it.

It is a love film rooted in a sci-fi premise.  It is love between a woman and a sea creature.  Of course it is never marketed that way.  The film makers make it more complicated than that.  The trailers make it clear there is something unusual here, but you are not sure until you watch it and then you are in it too deep.

At first, I thought it was a movie about how we treat others different than us — be it different racists or even animals.  But it is much more far reaching than that.

I believe this film is designed to promote a very extreme form of tolerance — one in which all discretion is abandoned. There is the very sympathetic character, a female protagonist — who lives in her own world and seemed abandoned by others, marginalized because of a physical challenge. There is an angry antagonist that was intolerant of virtually everyone.  He lived in a prison of how he perceived perfection and wanted to put everyone in a cell with him. Then there is the sea creature, that becomes the obsession of both. The antagonist that spends every waking moment plotting its death and the protagonists that fantasizes living with it, romantically, “happily ever after.”

If this movie was about tolerance to those that are different, and ended with the creature’s release and the woman going on with her life, and not (yes) being sexually intimate with it and wanted to continue to be, I would have said it was a fine picture.  But it crossed the line that challenged my own level of interest and enjoyment in the film.  I know the sea creature was smarter than most animals, it certainly had human like qualities, but in the end it was still a beast.  I saw one person refer to it as a “perverted version of Beauty and the Beast.”  Unless one believes bestiality is normal, that is exactly what this film is.

In the end I was very uncomfortable with it and found myself thinking about it long after it was over.  If I did not review my thoughts and weigh them, there is a high chance I would have bought the premise of the show.  That is something I am afraid many viewers likely have done.  In spite of the great writing and imagery, amazing acting and cinematography, the film promoted something that I certainly hope the larger culture will not embrace.  It was an amazing film and if we are a culture that is morally void, it is certainly Oscar worthy and more.  But if rules matter, you might think twice about seeing this film.  I wish I had passed.

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