On Valentine’s Day, the Oscar-nominated sci-fi drama “The Shape of Water” might just serve as a modern-day beacon for aspiring romantics. Its message: Find yourself someone who looks at you the way Sally Hawkins looks at that fish dude.
The best movie out right now about love isn’t “Fifty Shades Freed,” its Guillermo del Toro’s elegant hybrid of horror, fantasy and romance about a mute woman who develops a relationship with a monstrous merman, sea creature. Del Toro took inspiration from a number of classic fairy tales, but his own film makes an important, modernized, even feminist tweak on the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story.
“There are so many things that I think are very difficult to absorb in the normal ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story, about changing the person you love. That’s horror,” del Toro told TheWrap’s Steve Pond following TheWrap’s awards screening of “The Shape of Water.” “My teacher used to say, take them as they are or leave them as they be. I think there’s such truth in that.”
It’s something to keep in mind over Valentine’s Day dinner this evening. Of course, this is a del Toro movie, and the way he conveys the idea of not asking your partner to change comes with a bloody twist.
(Beware of SPOILERS next.)
When we first meet The Asset, or the sea creature captured in the lab at the start of the film, he’s a mystery. A webbed hand slaps against the glass of his tank and we’re terrified, yet over time, we embrace him. But just as we’ve been lulled into that trust, he wanders into the next door apartment and eats Richard Jenkins’s cat.
“They make love after he eats the cat. Why? Because in every relationship there comes a moment when somebody eats the cat,” del Toro said, arguing that true love means embracing a partner’s flaws. “And the sooner you eat the cat, the better the relationship will be. And if you then say ‘I love you’ even after you lose the cat, then that’s love. That’s real love.”
One of the film’s most beautiful lines is Hawkins speaking through sign language to Jenkins about why she loves The Asset. “When he looks at me, he doesn’t know that I’m incomplete.” It’s a film about empathy for the freaks and the “others” in the world, and showing compassion and love for someone means accepting them for their faults.
“Love is not about saying, ‘Well, in 10 years, he’ll dress better. She’ll know more about the music I like. No no no, take it or leave it,” del Toro said. “That doesn’t mean that you cannot meld, you can, and you can change for sure, but it cannot be demanded. It cannot be conditional.”
Consider it food for thought this Valentine’s Day, or in the case of The Asset eating a cat, literal “food” for thought.