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This essay will have spoilers for the film “The Shape of Water”. So you should go watch the film first if you don’t want anything spoiled and then come back and read the essay and proceed to agree or disagree with me in the comment section where you can link your own essay/review and we can have a civil conversation about art and creativity.
Watching a Film Twice
The Shape of Water offers a lot to a viewer who is watching it for the second time. If a reviewer or essay writer decided to write about an album after only a single listen then it is no longer a regular review but a reaction review. One is supposed to study paintings very closely even though they are moments in time. One gets to look enjoy and experience a painting for years if you’ve bought it and have it hanging up on your wall. With film we are only required to watch it once, if a film is good after multiple viewings then it becomes a cult classic. “The Shape of Water” is the kind of film that is watched once (for most) and a single sitting is good enough for us to decide if it’s thumbs up or thumbs down, if it gets a B or B-, or if it’s in the top 10 or it’s not.
Single viewings of films is certainly the case for me, there are only a handful of movies I’ve watched more than once and a very small number that I watched twice within a month. But I did have the opportunity to watch “The Shape of Water” twice. I recommended the film after the first viewing and only because a group of friends hadn’t watched it I sat my butt down in the theater recliner and watched it again, without the worry that I’d miss something if I went to the toilet.
What happens when you re-watch a movie?
Since you are less tied to the plot and the mystery of what’s going to happen you tend to catch more detail of things like the sets, the performances of the actors you enjoyed the first time around (unfortunately everyone was great in “The Shape of Water” so I can’t tell you if you notice bad performances better). I took more interest in the audience’s reaction to certain scenes, like the one where Sally Hawkins’ character Eliza has sex with the fish monster. I was also able to consider some of the more fantastic parts, not so much the fish monster, but that the characters were able to fill an apartment bathroom up with water to the ceiling with only the door closed and minimal leaking.
These aren’t slights on the film, I still enjoyed the film on its second viewing, but I have a way of getting lost in the world of a good film and allowing myself not to worry or take seriously some of the strange physics that were taking place. I have practice doing this from watching so many Star Wars films where physics take a back seat to lightsabers.
The set pieces stood out the most. I doubt they were realistic for the time period but they fit my pulp view of a 1960s science lab, large computer terminals, it appeared to be underground and everyone was in lab coats. The detail and the rust on the metal objects that were submerged in water were great and subtle touches. Seeing that the director cares about how much paint is chipped on the science instruments goes a long way and makes you recognize how immersive the film was the first time around.
Love Story or Science Fiction
“Tweener” is not a word. There is a prominent red underline underneath the word as I write this. The word even sound weird and sexual, as if it could be describing something illegal. This is a word I heard many years ago when radio personality Adam Carolla was trying to distribute his film “The Hammer”. Adam was having trouble because industry people weren’t sure whether his movie was a romantic comedy or a raunchy comedy or a love story with elements of the above. The people he talked to in Hollywood called the movie a “tweener” and because of that he had trouble getting it into theaters.
In other forms of media being a tweener is huge. Floyd Mayweather always preferred and had a better a payout when he was able to mix crowds of pay per view buyers. There is a group who will always buy his fights and it was best for him to find an opponent who brought in their own crowd, usually this was a fighter from Mexico or of Mexican decent. This is an example of a tweener strategy working.
“The Shape of Water” has a tweener aspect to it too. And unlike Adam Carolla’s movie, “The Shape of Water” has circumstance on its side. It is directed by Guillermo Del Toro who is a director film critics look out for, even if everything he does doesn’t receive accolades of Pan’s Labyrinth. Also, the marketing was pressing for an Oscar nod from the beginning and the film’s tone is artsy. “The Shape of Water” transcends being only a romance or only a science fiction film for these reasons. But if it hadn’t gotten caught the eye of the awards crowd it may have languished in the space between too weird and too normal.
“The Shape of Water” is worth watching because it stands out.
There is a sea monster in the film but it’s because of the far out subject matter that Del Toro is able to depict a nuanced picture of humanity. Science is put on the back burner, it’s human love and compassion told in the context of the cold war that puts “The Shape of Water” among best films of the year.
It gives you plenty of reasons to dislike it but once the film is watched and is given time to settle, sea monsters, bathrooms turning into aquariums, scars transforming into gills all fit the exact way they should in Guillermo Del Toro’s fantasy world.