16/01/2018

The Shape Of Water - The Monstrous Lover

Thoughts On: The Shape Of Water (2017)

A cleaner in a secret government facility falls for a prisoner.


The Shape Of Water is a pretty good movie. It has quite a few glaring plot holes and doesn't build into anything that will change your life, but it is a classical story rife with well-constructed archetypes that is told quite well. It goes without saying, but this also looks great too.

The most interesting element of The Shape Of Water is the relationship between our main protagonist and her love interest: the Creature of the Black Lagoon. Reworking the classic monster movie, Del Toro essentially tells the tale of Beauty and the Beast.

The Beast as a lover to a female protagonist is an incredibly prevalent archetype with many faces: the Beast can be a werewolf, vampire, pirate, zombie, surgeon, corrupt billionaire, jerk or bad-boy of some kind. This Beast, despite his monstrous facade, almost always has a weakness within him, and this is so often loneliness of some kind. Moreover, the monster within the Beast almost always projects his anger outwardly, away from the female protagonist. It is she who is attracted to the inherent antithesis within him (his loneliness, his hidden weakness, his corruption) and means to tame that Beast as no one else can. Again and again and again we have seen this played out in movies: in Beauty and the Beast, 50 Shades Of Grey, Twilight, The Hulk movies, Gone With The Wind, It Happened One Night, Edward Scissorhands, Shrek, etc. In all of these movies, we see beastly male archetypes confronted and tamed by women.

In some senses, this kind of narrative is then one about maternity and a woman's compassion; she finds a man with attractive attributes that are maybe a little out of hand, but, using her influence, carves out the man of her dreams from the Beast. There is then a strange line that is always almost toed in these stories. As in narratives that reverse these roles and see men save the damsels in distress, there is an element of infantalisation; the damsel becoming a weak child and the beast becoming a mother's baby boy. However, it would often be wrong to pick up on this and think you have struck gold. This infantalisation comes with the weakness within a subject attracting the hero. For example, in The Shape Of Water, we see loneliness weaken and infantalise The Creature From The Black Lagoon to some degree. In other movies of this kind, 50 Shades of Grey for example, this infantalisation is also at play with the monstrous side of the corrupt billionaire manifesting often as a toddler's temper tantrum (what's more, I'm pretty sure he has plenty of mummy issues). This puts the female archetype on the precipice of becoming an oedipal mother (which essentially means in a potentially abusive, life-sucking relationship), just like male archetypes seem to be approaching pedophilia sometimes. However, it is only with bad writing that this problem becomes obvious. It is nonetheless interesting to see many movies that fit into these classes skating a line between classical romance and something rather nasty.

On the note of 'something rather nasty', it is also interesting to see the Beast be captured quite literally in many stories of the kind we are discussing. The Shape Of Water is an example of this: throughout this story we see a woman fall in love and then develop a sexual relationship with a fish-man. Never is this really questioned in the film, and most engaged audience members won't question this either. Instead, the cuteness and the prowess of the thing is made clear - as is his humanity through his weak attributes (his loneliness and silence).

One of The Shape of Water's best attributes is then that it fully embraces the rather strange qualities of this classical story and its archetypes. What's more, it emphasises certain key elements; for example, the sexual relationship between creature and human is not hidden as it is with, for example, Beauty and the Beast. The inner psychology of the audience and this kind of film becomes very stark when watching The Shape Of Water. And in such, we see intriguing subconscious affinities emerge, those that have something to do with maternity, sexuality, monsters, binding weakness and female enchantresses.

All of these various elements may be a reflection of what it is that the archetypal woman wants: she wants a monster to fight for, to defend her, to love her and to be weak with her. And this is all, as must be noted, in direct conflict with the real monster: the Gaston archetype, who is monstrous toward the woman, and who also plays a role in this narrative. As misogynist as this analysis may appear to some, it is overwhelmingly obvious that this is the subtextual point of The Shape Of Water and the plethora of other movies like it. In genuinely capturing what may be an archetypal truth, this is then a movie that is very hard to dislike. As said, this isn't perfect and doesn't build into anything particularly substantial, but, this is awash with some nice characters, some comedy that hits and an immersive story, and so was quite a good time.

To end, we'll conclude as we usually do. Have you seen The Shape Of Water, or even films that sound like this? What are your thoughts on the monstrous lover?






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