Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shape of Water (2017)

My mother and I were talking about Trading Places shortly after she had watched it.  She was wondering if the use of a derogatory term by one of the Duke Brothers was called for.  I felt it was, as they weren’t really meant to be sympathetic characters.  They were the antagonists and nothing else.

In The Shape of Water, Richard Strickland fills that role.  He’s a racist, misogynistic creep who happens to be in authority.  The movie is set in the 1960s and he seems to represent everything about that decade that humanity should have overcome by now.  This shows in his interactions with the other main characters.

When he first encounters Elisa and Zelda, two female janitors, he doesn’t seem to mind them watching him urinate.  This is after they complained that men can’t hit the broad side of a urinal.  (I guess aim doesn’t make you a good person.)  He also leaves his cattle prod in plain view, mentioning how dangerous it is.  (Compensate much?)  He also prefers to wash his hands before doing his business.  (Who even does that?)

It doesn’t take long for The Asset to arrive.  What the main characters call The Asset, IMDb has listed as Amphibian Man.  He was captured in South America and brought to Baltimore to be studied.  Amphibian Man is kept locked up with Elisa and Zelda going in to clean the room as needed.  When it becomes apparent that Amphibian Man will be killed, Elisa knows she has to free him no matter the risk.

This is the movie that Bright could have been.  Instead of using the fantasy element as just another aspect of the movie, we have the fantasy element worked subtly into the plot.  A creature is brought in for study and is treated like crap.  I would normally complain about the character being called The Asset, but that’s exactly what I’d expect.  If you’re going to a vivisection, you don’t want to get too attached to the organism in question.

Strickland is a results-oriented guy.  That’s why he was brought in on the project.  However, many of the characters are minorities.  Elisa is mute.  Zelda is African-American.  Elisa’s neighbor is gay.  There’s even a Soviet spy mixed in.  These are not people that were welcomed with open arms in 1960s America, which breeds a certain level of empathy for Amphibian Man.  How we treat others, especially those not like us, says a lot about who we are.  This is where Strickland comes across as pure antagonist.

It’s worth noting that the movie doesn’t hold any punches when it comes to minorities.  A couple is turned away from a restaurant because people of color simply didn’t sit at the counter.  Strickland talks down to Zelda and Elisa with open hostility.  He’s also not afraid to torture Amphibian Man (and others) to get what he wants.  (For parents thinking of bringing their children to the movie, these aren’t the only issues.  There is sexuality and language.  I would say that 18+ should be safe.  13-17 is maybe a judgment call.  12 and other should probably wait.)

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