The Shape of Water (2017) – Ace Mini-Review

The Shape of Water
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon
Written by: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
U.S.A., 2017

How good is this movie?

A modern-day fairy-tale that works both as a touching cross-cultural bonding story and as a biting satire of Cold War America. The filming is beautiful and the performances endearing. I would find the love story more compelling if the fish man had a more distinctive personality, but this isn’t exactly a film I’m looking to for realism, anyway.

How ace is this movie?

Elisa is established as having a libido right from the beginning, engaging in masturbation as part of her morning routine. The masturbation is played for gentle comedy, but also portrayed as perfectly normal; Elisa is not shamed for being single or ridiculed for engaging in non-partnered sex. Her later affair with the fish man may feel like a piece of obligatory heteronormativity; the film even takes pains to reassure us that the fish man has a penis! And there are shades of the old and very gross tope of using sex as a kind of universal bonding activity. On the other hand, the fish man also connects with Elisa and other humans in non-sexual ways, such as curing Giles’s baldness. And even if she is not ace, Elisa’s choice of a fish for a sexual partner could mark her as queer. This is also in keeping with the film’s pattern of drawing the heroes from marginalised groups: women, black people, gay people, disabled people, and even Russian spies are among those who try to protect the fish man.

3.5 Stars; 3 Aces

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