Oscar winner is perfect metaphor for strange times

PUBLISHED: 13:00 10 March 2018

The Shape of Water. Picture: Cover Images

The Shape of Water. Picture: Cover Images


The Shape of Water might sound like a preposterous premise. But, argues EMMA JONES, it is actually the perfect modern romance

Boy-meets-girl on the silver screen is now girl meets fish in a stinky bath. The Shape of Water is an unreal film, in which a mute cleaner falls in love with a sea creature at work, bonding over a shared craving for hard-boiled eggs. But it’s come-up smelling of roses, to become a big hit.

Director Guillermo del Toro realised that the contorting configuration of modern romance is a complicated beast. So, he made a fantasy film about it and it is the perfect metaphor for our times.

His vision of workplace flirting might be weird, but it is a reflection of isolation which resonates with today’s lonely hearts. Sapped of the ability to speak to one another, daters’ fear of political incorrectness has bleached seductive banter. Lost in our own voids, busy lives have called time’s up on slow romance.

Consumed with our fake social media personas, we have fertilised a pasture of lovelessness. I went to see the film with a younger, hotter, female friend. Beautiful and intelligent, she is also wealthy and successful. It goes without saying, she is single, too. Neither of us are entirely convinced she needs a full-time man.

My friend was stirred by the film, much more so than me. She said would go to see The Shape of Water again. Obviously, my friend’s sentiments echoed those of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which awarded it this year’s Oscar for Best Picture.

The movie appeals to the old-fashioned romantic idea of finding a soulmate. Or a lemon sole mate. The idea of a romantic hero being a cold-hearted creature, unfathomable, with a humanity beneath his tough-skinned exterior is nothing new. This film perhaps takes it a little further.

The romantic hero here is a cold-blooded creature, from deep under the fathoms, with a human beneath his tough-scaled exterior. What’s fresh is, instead of being sexually ambiguous, the protagonist is amphibious.

‘Fish God’ is perfect – he is the ideal modern partner. He fits into an independent girl’s life, no hassle. His needs are simple – a Lush bath bomb. A box of detoxifying salts on Valentine’s Day. And you can keep him in the wetroom.

Ok, so he’ll make a mess on the nice tiles, but it’s a small price to pay for the renewable electricity he generates naturally. Not to mention the cute way his little fins prick up, when he’s aroused, which is almost every time he looks at you. By the way, his private parts fold away very neatly and tidily. And he has exotic tastes.

But it’s hard. The fact is, you just can’t go for a drink in a bar these days, to meet a fish god. They are too scared of what Twitter might say to chat you up. You have to kidnap one.

Consensually. But how does that work? Unfortunately, once again, it’s extremely complicated, in 2018. It only works, in fact, if the one doing the kidnapping is a woman. Think back to the days of old-fashioned movie heroes, like Richard Gere’s aviator, in An Officer and a Gentleman.

Today, he would be slapped with a restraining order, for forcibly removing his romantic heroine from the factory floor. But in the case of Eliza, in The Shape of Water, it’s OK, as she is acting in good faith legally, based on a risk assessment of health and safety issues in the work place, with particular regard to the Sea God’s living conditions.

But you don’t have to be a mute orphan like Eliza to fall victim to loneliness. It’s all around us. We made it that way. The nearest thing to a drunk, clumsy fumble nowadays, is if someone swipes right. You do this while you’re sat on your own on the couch.

You don’t even get to feel the sensation. Priorities have changed.

There’s just not much room to love others – when self-love is a full-time vocation. We have our digital personas, our selfie-dom to reign over, our ‘likes’ to upkeep. It’s a 16-hour-a-day job. Where will it end? What will the new auto-heartbreak look like?

Victims of modern self-love are already emerging. Those who call themselves ‘Instawhores’ are to be seen, scattered on the social media highway, their imperfect bodies a testament to their failure to match their fabricated realities.

New Yorker Lissette Calveiro was in the news this week after she confessed she’d gone broke trying to live the instagram dream. “I wanted to tell my story about this young millennial living in New York,” Calverio told the New York Post. “I was shopping.. for clothes to take the perfect ‘gram. I was living above my means.” It ended up costing her a fortune on holidays (she had to show she travelled) and shopping sprees (so she was never caught in the same outfit twice). “I was living a lie,” Calverio said. The Instawhores are falling on their own swords and vowing to live more real lives.

We forgot to live in the real world. But what will happen to the films we watch in the future. What will become of the post-Weinstein Hollywood dream?

Romance in movies used to be one of simple pleasures. Dirty Dancing, would now be Unlawful Assault, Sex in the City, Celibacy in the Suburbs. Comedian Bill Maher points out that every plot-line makes Love Actually, more like Inappropriate Actually. Sleepless in Seattle would still be Sleepless in Seattle.

After the film has finished my beautiful friend asks me to take a picture of her for the new dating app she is trying out – one-tailor made for successful professionals. I take one and she looks great. But she’s unsure and deletes it. I wonder how she’ll actually appear in person on the date if the stakes are so high just for the photo. I guess a girl can always get a cat. Or a catfish.

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