The Oscar nominees this year include a film of great importance to the gay commumity. The movie is set in an era of unbending conformity that restricted one’s ability to find true love and happiness without incurring the wrath of society. Obviously we’re talking about The Shape of Water. If you thought this was going to be an ode to Call Me By Your Name, go make yourself another vodka redbull then come back and finish reading.
Call Me is a beautiful story of young love and self discovery set in the not-so-pride-friendly era of the early eighties. But Oliver and Elio are ensconced in a freindly, open minded family. And while they still sneak around, it’s obvious to everyone what’s developing. Of course while this young love is destined to failure partly by society, it’s a relatively uplifting story with no real consequences for their summer of love. Despite the fact that it features a mythical sea god consumating his relationship with a human in a bathroom-turned-aquarium, The Shape of Water is a much more realistic look at forbidden love.
The In Crowd
In Shape, you are either like everyone else or you are an outsider, even (especially) if the thing that makes you different is beyond your control. Elisa is mute. Giles is her gay best friend. Her co-worker Zelda is African American. It’s not easy being any of those today, but in the early sixties it was the equivilent of hitting the Hate Trifecta. But all three managed to live their mundane lives on the margins until the ultimate outsider shows up and changes everything. Rarely do you have a movie where a main character is never named (even IMDb credits the role as Amphibian Man). But that just serves to reinforce that our sea god is an outsider even amongst outsiders.
The movie explores how outcasts come together, Elisa and Amphibian Man bonding over eggs and music, learning to communicate through sign language, always in secret. And when it is time to rescue him it brings all of our societal misfits into common cause. All this while the government looks at the sea god as nothing more than a science experiment and Elisa and Zelda as mere help incapable of doing anything but clean the lab or form an intelligent thought. Of course, they use this subbordinate status to their advantage to save their new friend.
Where Is The Love
Obviously the point of Shape isn’t to take a nostalgic look back at the bad ol’ days. It isn’t even to make us value everyone we come in contact with. We must also remember that being an outsider kicks ass, and in reality, we are all outsiders. But the reason this is the truly great gay film of 2017 is that it reminds us with brutal honesty that it wasn’t so long ago the community was required to not only hide, but to conform. Not to celebrate love, but to bash it. The Shape of Water inspires and renews faith in love. Love in the unlikeliest of places and between the unlikeliest of people. A love that must be defended at every turn and at all cost.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Vodka Redbull. Even if you had one when we sent you to the bar at the top of the story, have another. You’ve earned it.