Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Shape of Water


So I popped the Best Picture of 2017 DVD into the player and sat back, thinking, Okay, can you show me a woman fucking a fish and not make me laugh? The answer was, Yes. But sadly, the answer to the question of Can you make me believe in a woman fucking a fish was, No. I tried and I tried to really like this film, since it is the only science fiction movie ever to win Best Picture (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King was fantasy) and it is a serious film, unlike most of the dreck that passes for SF in cinema these days, but I just could not make it work.

Okay, the fish joke above was not fair. It’s clear this creature is not a fish. But another thing is clear, and that is that he is not a mammal. Amphibian? Reptile? Who knows? But I look at him and my reaction is … cold. Clammy. Damp. Even slimy. What are the chances that his clamshell penis will even fit a human vagina?

And yes, I know this is meant to be a modern (well, 1962 modern) fairy tale, and sometimes it almost achieves that, but it never quite sustains it. And if it had, I would not have time to wonder about practical things like penis size. Or … how impossible it would be to fill a bathroom with water by stuffing a towel under the door. I mean, really! Do you know how long it would take to fill, even if it didn’t leak like the Trump White House? Or … it came as a surprise to me that rains to rival the monsoons apparently always arrive in Baltimore on April 10th. The whole plot revolves around the fact that we are meant to believe that.

But the worst thing about this story is the Villain. I capitalize that word because he is lifted straight out of … not a fairy tale, but a cheap melodrama, pulp fiction. I mean, this is a pull-out-all-the-stops Bad Guy, a cartoon. They never missed an opportunity to make him horrible. Not only is he a sadist, a Cold War fanatic, a religious nut, and a rapist, he crunches annoyingly on hard candy, just really creeping me out.

I do not hate the film. It has a lot going for it, and if it all works for you, I’m very happy for you. But Best Picture? I have not seen all the nine nominees yet, but of the 2017 movies that I have seen, I thought Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Beauty and the Beast and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were all better than this. And better than any of them was Coco, which was banished to the Best Animated Feature category, which it of course won.

The best thing about it is the production design. They have created a weird sort of steampunk, Betty Crocker, tail fin, space race environment that looks a lot like 1962 as I remember it, and yet is hyper-real, surreal real in some ways. The streets are a little too clean, orderly, neon-lit to be real. And I like that. Sally Hawkins’ apartment is a delight; Lee and I would love to live in it. The government research facility is bland and corporate until we get into the secret lab, where Captain Nemo would feel right at home. Paul Denham Austerberry, Shane Vieau, and Jeff Melvin won the Oscar for production design, and deserved it.