“The Last Jedi”, with its billion-dollar whammy at the box office, was not the ONLY movie out there this Christmas.
You might want to see this one.
A few years ago, on the lam from a convention which was utterly failing to hold our interest, my husband and I and a good friend found ourselves snatching at other possibilities of entertainment, which ended up being an afternoon at the movies.
The movie we saw, which left an indelible impression, was Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth”.
I have had a wide exposure to things fairytale-ish and fantastic. I had never seen anything quite like this movie before. It haunted me. All of it, from its incredible fantastic imagery, to that plaintive lullaby theme tune, to the uncompromising attention to detail, to the way it was set in a cruel “reality” and did not shy away from violence and viciousness to underline some luminous idea, to the punch to the heart when the whole thing unspooled and played out.
This was no pretty happily ever after fairytale. This was a fairytale filled with pain and with sorrow… and then with transcendence. It was astonishing. It was etched into memory. It was transforming. It was something that I had simply never quite experienced before.
When the first whispers of “The Shape of Water”, the director’s new movie, drifted into my focus, I sat up and started paying attention. I tripped on the trailer almost accidentally, and watched it, spellbound. This was a movie I knew I was going to have to go and see.
I did, at last, on Christmas Day of 2017. And… oh. It’s savage. It’s beautiful. It’s funny. It’s spellbinding.
It’s no “Pan’s Labyrinth”. That stands alone. But this… is its own thing, and it is powerful in all the unexpected ways that Guillermo del Toro has apparently made his trademark.
There’s a moment where the mute female protagonist, who cannot speak, has never been able to speak, is driven through the power of an unspeakable, impossible, forbidden love to try and whisper not just words but a song.
It’s like watching someone’s soul singing.
You want to look away because it’s so shiningly vulnerable, so private, so obviously not meant for YOU to see, but you can’t look away, you’re mesmerized, and the song stays with you, after, drifting through your mind, carrying love.
Visually magnificent, full of wounded human beings who respond to their hurts as best they know how and are either healed by that courage or stabbed even deeper through the attempt to succor themselves, visceral, unexpectedly funny, tragic in that way that apparently only Guillermo del Toro knows how to make shine with a dark and beautiful light.
This isn’t everyone’s cup of tea – but oh, if it is yours, you’ll drink it dry, you’ll taste the poison at the bottom of the cup, and you’ll treasure the bitter aftertaste of it because it is a hope and a truth and a vision. This director doesn’t fob you off with anything that’s less than whole. He doesn’t give you half-truths, or white lies, or in any way gloss over the harshness that is part of life and living.
And yet… and yet… there is a fairytale hidden in it all, and when you open yourself to that, you open yourself to understanding life, and the universe, and EVERYTHING.
There’s a poem quoted at the end – not entirely sure of the provenance, but it might (some say) be either directly translated from or inspired by a poem by Rumi:
“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, for You are everywhere.”
You’ll remember this story. Because it will be everywhere. And if you tell me that you won’t have at least the ghost of this tale peer at you from the shadows of your mind every time you hear that song play again, the one she sang to him, I’ll tell you that you’re wrong.
You may not even remember what you are remembering – it might take all sorts of different forms – but… well… that’s just the shape of water.