Shape of Water Is A Win for the Weirdos
The Shape of Water, my favorite film of 2017, won Best Picture at the Oscars last night. A monster movie won Best Picture. Not just a monster movie. A fairy tale. A horror movie. It’s the movie idea you come up with when you are nine years old and sketch out during math class because your brain just doesn’t get math but it certainly gets monsters.
Reading reactions today, it’s clear many do not think this is a very original film. It’s true; in many ways, it isn’t. Carlo Gozzi, an 18th century Italian playwright, one said there are only 36 dramatic plot lines and in my lifetime of consuming art, I couldn’t agree more. It’s the fairy tale of the princess who falls in love with the monster. It’s a dark version of Splash as many people have joked. It’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s not unlike other stories about outcasts of society rising up against the bad guy who thinks he’s the good guy.
All that aside, I treasure this win. I find this win to be important on a level that goes unnoticed. This win is for those of us who are dreaming in shadows instead of daylight. Those who may have been told they have a twisted mind. The outcasts who love horror movies like the Academy usually love biopics.
This win is for the weirdos.
I am in no way discrediting the other wonderful films nominated for Best Picture. I would have lost my shit over Get Out winning the golden man. That would be important on a whole other level much like Jordan Peele winning Best Screenplay. I should also point out that I am not saying they weren’t written by weirdos and outcasts as well because they are. Most artists are weirdos and outcasts. They are the theater kids who know all the words to Rent but can’t memorize the rules of algebra (this is me) and the indoor kids that can tell you how to build a Flux Capacitor.
This one felt special. This one felt necessary and needed in a time of turmoil. We are in the darkest timeline and del Toro has been showing us the light for a while. He spins beautiful narratives with the imagination of a wunderkind. He catches us daydreaming in the worlds he builds and then rips out our hearts by reminding us evil is always lurking. When all seems lost, he sends in hope, because there is always hope, and we feel powerful again but with more of an awareness of our own mortality. He writes perfect fairy tales that are lessons we have shoved in a drawer, gathering dust as we plow through on our own, blind and uninspired, waiting to be taken out, shaken off, and remembered for what they are: our guiding light. Our North Star.
We need more stories like this. The stories we grew up loving and relying on and have forgotten because that’s what growing up is: forgetting.
I understand many can’t get past what most are calling “the fish sex”. I understand many found it to be focused on Eliza’s disability. I did not see these things. This is perhaps because I view the world through fairy tale glasses. I see evil queens and jealous stepsisters. I see quirky sidekicks and princesses who don’t want to be a princess any more. I see monsters and murderers and dark storm clouds. I saw Eliza as a lost princess who was strong, determined, and hopeful. I did not see a monster. Much like Eliza, I saw a creature being kept against his will and being mistreated because he was unique, like herself. The only characters that focus on her disability and his differences are the bad guys. The outcasts are the normal ones. We know this story. Many of us have lived this story. It’s not about fish sex. It’s about a connection that is genuine and real in spite of world telling them it is not possible. It is two strong leads that society doesn’t think should be strong saying F you and living their best life until society beats them down again.
It’s a twist on monsters. It’s letting the strange and unusual out and free to follow the Yellow Brick Road when they weren’t allowed to before. Which society still does. If you’re an outcast of any kind, it can feel very isolating. It can feel impossible. You don’t fit in. You are scared to stand out. You are weird and some people don’t like it. At heart, I am a girl who loves horror movies and fairy tales. I’ve been called weird more times than I can count. As an adult, it is now affectionate. When I was a kid, it was cruel. It’s hard to be the weird kid in class who likes classic rock and knows every lyric to every Disney song. That sort of strangeness should be celebrated but it isn’t when we are young. Then many of us forget our quirks as we age because they were bullied out of us and we become what society lays out as normal. And those of us that don’t, well, they win Academy Awards.
Embrace the weirdness. Celebrate the wins for weirdos. This story came from a deep love of monsters and princesses and villains that get up after you shoot them down. It’s a crucial win for the kid who is in his basement sketching out vampires that play in a rock band and the kid who was bullied in the bathroom for wanting to be more like Lydia Deetz instead of Regina George.
I know there are a lot more issues out there than the outcasts getting their due. There’s so much happening it almost feels like we are all going to burst. And I am the first to admit this isn’t new. Outcasts have been having a lot of wins lately. I mean, carrying around crystals is COOL now, guys. WHAT? My 14 year old self would have cried a lot less if when she said she wanted to be a witch, it was considered a boost in social status. It isn’t just social outcasts either. It’s all kinds. A revolution is happening and I am here for it.
This step in the direction of supporting strangeness more and more, especially with our kids. It gets better as we grow up but when you’re that kid, you don’t know that. You aren’t told that enough. You might not have been able to stay up late enough to watch the guy who has a rain room in his house(this is a fact) win an Oscar for a monster movie love story horror flick so you need your parents to tell you that it happened. You need them to say “Wow, that’s amazing you wrote a story about an evil Santa Claus! Check out these creepy short stories by Stephen King. It’s right up your alley!”* As Del Toro said in his acceptance speech, the door is open. I definitely am ready to step inside.
*In fourth grade, I wrote a story called “Santa Claws” about an evil Santa that stole kids eyes and wore them on his fingers which were claws (of course). While my parents did not panic and embraced my weirdness instead of assuming I was disturbed, I can’t say it was a favorite of theirs. But they did hand me Four Past Midnight, a collection of Stephen King’s short stories, which continue to inspire me to this day.