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The Shape of Water

Guillermo Del Toro refers to The Shape of Water as an 'antidote to cynicism.' I like that. I feel so often like I am trapped in a reality where genuine appreciation is ridiculed; where the reaction to something one likes must be tempered and mediated to maintain a cool composure.

The film is full of endless possibilities, constantly twisting and turning because it is satisfyingly unbound to the structures of lived reality. Set in the 1960s within a temporal zone already removed from our contemporary reality, it creates a supernatural narrative that is not justified or ridiculed, but merely accepted. Characters may be caricatures but they are loveable and fully fleshed out ones. The film's protagonist Elisa, though mute, speaks loudly through her silences, her gestures characterising her loneliness. Her daily routine of running a bath, fiercely masturbating in said bath, dining on boiled eggs, and watching musicals with her similarly lonely neighbour, before taking the bus to the research facility where she works as a janitor in the evenings, paints a picture of a girl who yearns not only for company, but something drastic enough to interrupt this monotonous lifestyle. As she begins to form a tentative relationship with the amphibious creature who is being held in captivity in the research facility, Del Toro masterfully demonstrates the gradual shifts in her character through slight alterations to her daily pattern.

On the surface, Elisa is girlish and innocent, but Del Toro refuses to shy away from her sexualisation. She is the one who initiates the sexual interaction between herself and the creature, and the latter captures her interest because they are both alone: 'When he looks at me he does not know how I am incomplete,’ her neighbour translates. The egg comes to symbolise their solitariness; at once humourous and poignant, the sharing of the boiled egg expresses their first moment of interaction.


I cannot speak when the credits begin to roll, I'm glad you cannot draw yourself to speak either. I am terrified of the words, which I shortly hear uttered behind me: 'it was okay.' This blazé response bemuses me; I cannot comprehend such a grey reaction to something so colourful, so full of vivacity. A film that yearns to be loved or hated; a film that forbids the bland, the accepting. Open your eyes, what do you see? I sometimes wonder if people prefer to keep them shut...

The final words of the film reverberate through the half-filled cinema...

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.

Cinemas disguise time, plunging you into a darkened auditorium with no natural light even on the earliest of mornings, the sunniest of days. But on this occasion I can feel the cold dampness of the outside, feel the night air that I will soon encounter. I do not want to leave the warmth of this room. Something permeates that is not a sentimental perspective on love, no it is so real I could touch it. This is old-fashioned storytelling; the kind that disregards those audiences who will question every last detail, doubt every word. This is that old-fashioned kind of storytelling that doesn't evade the desired happy ending just because it is clichéd. Does not the clichéd ending often become that which evades satisfying conclusions for the sake of it? What is so wrong with believing in love in the one place where you can fully detach from reality, in the imaginary auditorium up in the unknowably dark sky?

I ponder this, wondering about the subsequent fate of these vivid characters who leave my life when the running time is complete, but equally happy to let them go. They disappear into their worlds and I can disappear, more happily, into my own.

We leave the cinema, unsure of where to go or what to do. The sky is lilac and it is neither dark nor cold. A sprinkle of rain persists but it is merely refreshing, undisturbing. We decide to go nowhere rather than somewhere, which feels appropriate on this surreal night. York Minster towers high, its facade flattened against the bright night sky, as though a 2D board constructed as part of a huge movie set. It is so overpoweringly large, so concrete in the midst of all this virtuality. We look up. No camera could capture this; the tiny frame would render it insignificant. I take a snapshot in my mind instead, hoping I will not forget.

I want to be here exist here forever in the small place I have carved out for myself in the stillness of the night with only the buildings for company; a reminder of my locality within a state that feels a lot like dreaming.

Tascha von Uexkull

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