I love movies
for immersion in a story, bright lights on a big screen, escape from real life.
I hate movies
for glaring plot holes, unrealistic and clunky characterisation, reliance on CGI and explosions rather than an actual story.
Why the conflict? I watch movies as a writer now. Sometimes that takes away from the experience.
Take the multi Oscar winner Shape of Water which I saw recently on a flight. On paper, it was just right; science fiction, mute protagonist, apparently gorgeous visuals and soundtrack.
The protagonist Elisa and her two friends have warm, accepting relationships, that contrast well with the paranoia of the Cold War and the racism and homophobia of the times.
But there are problems.
Every major film has plot holes, sci-fi and fantasy perhaps more than most. There is more leeway in a visual medium. A book can’t distract the reader by blowing something up without explaining how and why it’s done.
The central performance by Sally Hawkins as mute Elisa made the most of a kooky girl stereotype (loves shoes and boiled eggs) and her relationship with her neighbour Giles was sweetly platonic. But Giles was doomed to be rebuffed by the others he approaches. He ends the movie without the central relationship in his life.
Strickland is well developed as a truly nasty, sadistic antagonist. But microsurgery of the type he needed on his hand barely existed in 1962. And he never sees a surgeon again after the operation, even when things are going wrong. We don’t see how his wife reacted to the new car and what happened to it, although it is given importance and screen time.
The little backstory given for Elisa telegraphed the final reveal. Because writers know about Chekhov’s gun and it wasn’t subtle.
Since we’re in the real world, it’s clear that pushing towels under the door cannot make a room watertight. In the film, water does not obey the laws of physics.
The creature’s origins are unclear, which adds to the mystery. But when he runs away, he doesn’t go very far at all and Elisa finds him immediately. Convenient.
In the end there is not much change for the main characters, beyond Strickland’s descent into a kind of madness.
In the final analysis, it’s hard to know why this film won Best Picture. It tries to show that love can take different shapes, and puts a mute woman at the centre of a love story. And the black guy survived. But there’s no deeper meaning to find since we see little of the inner worlds of Elisa or the monster. In a book, I would expect to see the relationship developing as they learn more about each other. Eggs and music could only be a starting point.
It is a romance without words but with sex, and in that I guess it is quite realistic. I just expected an Oscar winner would have more to say.