Movies of the Week: On Campus & In Town

Gloria Han and Alex Weimer, Maroon-News Staff

The Shape of Water

Do you ever come out of a movie, knowing it was good, but you didn’t really enjoy it? I felt that way about Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water; 78% of audiences (and 92% of critics) on Rotten Tomatoes gave it a fresh score, and I’m afraid this time I’m not in the majority.

The Shape of Water is structured like a fairytale, albeit for adults, and set in the 1960’s Cold War era. Its protagonist, Elisa Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, is a mute, cheerful and charming woman, working as a janitor at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore. When she is not working alongside her friend and co-worker Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, she spends time with her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins). The arrival of Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to the facility also means the arrival of a mysterious creature that he has captured from the Amazon. Elisa discovers that the creature is a humanoid-amphibian and develops a trusting relationship with it, one egg at a time. Upon hearing that the creature will be vivisected for use in the Space Race, Elisa becomes determined to free it with the help of her friends. 

Del Toro does a really good job of creating the backdrop and an authentic 1960’s atmosphere. The dress, hairstyles, colors, as well as the tension between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, are all perfectly encapsulated. If you’ve seen any other of his films, you’ll know that Del Toro is a very visual filmmaker. The Amazonian creature even vaguely reminds me of Pan from Pan’s Labyrinth. He excels at bringing fantasy to life; the first scene introduces a beautifully depicted dream in which Elisa’s whole room is underwater. Another visual that stuck out to me was a close-up of a couple raindrops chasing each other on a bus window. Del Toro combines genres quite successfully, with a mix of blood/violence, sex/nudity and horror. Hence, the adult fairytale. 

The characters are very purposeful in that the main ones are all marginalized in respective ways: Elisa, for her disability, Giles, for his homosexuality, Zelda, for her race, etc. This is one of the reasons that Elisa is attracted to and identifies with the “monstrous” creature. Hawkins is predictably incredible, and her expressions and sign language speak such volumes that I forgot she wasn’t moving her mouth. Shannon is perfectly cast as the villain, his character’s gangrenous fingers, reeking and dripping with pus revealing him to be the true monster of the movie. Overall, the film makes a strong statement on otherness and equal treatment that feels relevant even today. 

If it looks like I’m just praising the movie, it’s because I am. It’s a well-made movie. At times it felt a little long, but it was nonetheless engaging. My issue with it was the interspecies romance between Elisa and the creature felt a little rushed and forced. It could’ve been eased into with more delicacy than it was. As a result, I couldn’t help but feel that it bordered on bestiality. In addition, the ending is inadequate: the inclusive message of the story feels undermined by only focusing in on Elisa. So while I fully acknowledge that The Shape of Water is one of the best movies of the year, I’ll be rooting for Three Billboards at the Oscars — at least for Best Picture. 

Contact Gloria Han at [email protected].

Get Out

The Art’s Department Friday Night Film Series screened Jordan Peele’s film Get Out in Golden Auditorium in Little Hall on Friday, February 9. While many are familiar with Peele’s comedy material on his show Key and Peele, Get Out is a movie that airs on the side of suspense and horror. The Friday Night Film Series is meant to reach out to students from all walks of life. Mary Simonson, director of the Film and Media Studies Program, said they “want the films to bring in collaboration from across campus–from the History department, to Women’s Studies and LGBTQ+.” 

Get Out features a young African American named Chris, played by Daniel Kaluuya, who is invited to visit his white girlfriend’s home. The film utilizes many tropes addressing the presence of race. Not only is there a dichotomy between black and white skin, but photography, clothes and cars also parallel this stark contrast throughout. 

A Visiting Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies Eli Horwatt chose to screen this film. “I had heard a lot of talk around campus about this particular movie, and I was interested in seeing the notion of racism experienced through horror,” Horwatt said.

Peele addresses racism through genres such as horror and comedy. The reason these genres are so effective in examining the racial divides in America is because horror and comedy hit at the truth of these situations. We fear horror because parts of it resonate within us, leading us to question what if it happened to me? We get scared because somewhere inside us, it seems possible that it could happen. Similarly, with comedy we find certain jokes funny because they reveal a truth. 

Before screening Get Out, a brief Key and Peele skit was played titled “Alien Imposters.” In the skit, Key and Peele play the two remaining survivors after an alien invasion. The aliens pose as humans to lure them into traps. However, they are able to distinguish whether or not these people are in fact human or aliens by the way they respond to social cues. For instance, a man wearing a hat with a Confederate flag on it would not invite two black men to join their survival group, a white business man would not let a black man date his daughter and therefore they recognize the aliens in disguise. The reason why we find these jokes funny is because there is a hint of truth underlying them, and humor is just a way to address this truth.

Get Out mirrors this interplay of reality and fiction through demonstrating the conflicting responses towards black individuals in American society. The idea that white people plant their brains into black bodies is absurd and far-fetched when you take it literally, but it points toward underlying issues of race inequalities seen in media and day-to-day life alike. While the powerful ideas presented seem almost sci-fi, the movie leaves viewers feeling as though it may not be so out of touch with reality.

This movie is also available on HBO for those who can’t wait to see it. The movie is also nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards so if you’re looking to impress your movie loving friends, be sure to bring up this film. The nomination is even more impressive when you consider that the film had a relatively low budget of 4.4 million dollars.

Contact Alex Weimer at [email protected].