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The Intersection: The Shape of Water

14 Dec

I am a Guillermo del Toro fan. Mind you, I didn’t discover him until Pan’s Labyrinth in 2006, but I made up for it. (And if you haven’t seen The Devil’s Backbone and The Orphanage, you absolutely should.) So, when I heard he was doing a Creature From the Black Lagoon kind of film with extra-added romance, I was all in. The preview can be found here.

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My expectations, based upon the trailer, were something between Creature From the Black Lagoon and Edward Scissorhands. I thought it would be creepy and sad because that’s Guillermo del Toro’s work, and he does it very, very well. However, this time I was surprised. The film is gorgeous. All his films tend to be, and it’s obvious that every visual aspect is carefully chosen. The creature makeup and design was exactly right. The costumes are impeccable. I think the film is set in 1961 or possibly 1962.[1] The cast is amazing, and I was very happy to see Octavia Spencer. She’s wonderful as Zelda Fuller, Elisa Esposito’s coworker. Interestingly enough, this film is a Feminist one—unlike the original Creature From the Black Lagoon which features a monster kidnapping a white woman so he can have his way with her and a hero who must save her from being plundered. In this case, the two roles are switched. The villain in The Shape of Water is played by Michael Shannon and is a walking, talking sack of toxic masculinity which particularly fits the era—a time when square-jawed heroes featured heavily in film and literature. It was nice to see that role as the antagonist. Even the Russians (the standard Big Bad of the ’50s and ’60s) weren’t as awful. I appreciated that. 

Things to remember: del Toro is great at keeping his stories firmly set in a specific time period. McCarthyism would have been less than a decade away. The Cuban Missile Crisiswhich began on October 16, 1962is either a year and a handful of days away (my theory) or a handful of days away.

I expected a film that focused on the men and the monster because that’s typical of Hollywood and this was a reimagined SF B-movie, after all.[2] What surprised me was that it didn’t and wasn’t. The Shape of Water is a (mostly) quiet, sensual film centered on Elisa who is, herself, quiet and sensual. It’s a gentle, lonely film about two gentle, lonely peopleone of which happens to be a monster. It is very much from the perspective of a woman who has agency. She’s never whisked away against her will. She chooses every step of the way. This isn’t the stereotypical, problematic Beauty and the Beast story designed to train young women to accept the unacceptable in romantic partners. It’s a story about a woman who lives in a world in which she doesn’t belong, and how she finds herself and her one true love. I won’t tell you whether or not she rescues him. I’ll leave that for you to discover.

 


[1] The villain buys a new Cadillac Coup de Ville sometime in the story. It’s a 1962 model. I don’t know about then, but now days car companies debut the next year’s models late in the year. At one point, Elisa writes on a calendar that says it’s October. So, my theory is it’s October 1961.

[2] As much as I loved Edward Scissorhands, it treated its heroine like a prize.

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The Intersection: Ghosts in the Genre Machine

16 Nov

The other day I heard a rumor about DC’s future plans for Wonder Woman that really pissed me off: the writers are considering ‘shipping Wonder Woman with Bruce Wayne. On the surface, that sounds harmless enough—that is, until you consider this thing called “context.” With that in mind, I’m going to make an unambiguous statement.

Repeatedly demonstrating via story (in media and literature) that women are not complete beings without being in a relationship with a man is damaging. It props up patriarchal narratives on the non-value of women. It reduces them to one fate: being the property of a man. Continue reading

The Intersection: Day of the Dove

12 Oct
“And so we drift in space… with only hatred and bloodshed aboard.”
—Captain Kirk, “Day of the Dove,” Star Trek 1968

2017 has been a hard year to be a writer and not only because the Trump administration has been doing its best to remove all options for affordable, effective healthcare—something that freelancers depend upon entirely (and all professional fiction writers are, in fact, freelancers)—but also because with horrific event after horrific threat (Hello, North Korea), fiction writing begins to feel superfluous. Worse, if you’re like me and you enjoy writing stories about people trying to be their best selves in extreme situations like war, then you start to wonder if you’re contributing to the problem. They’ve been daunting, these thoughts. The only ray of light is the knowledge that I’m not the only one. Continue reading

The Intersection: IT

14 Sep

I’m a Stephen King fan. He’s not perfect. No writer is. To this day, I still love his work. Anyway, I read IT ages ago, and the book gave me nightmares. My experience with the book was mostly positive. Mostly. One of the things that I like about King is that his characters often choose to be their better selves under dire circumstances. Also, in The Stephen King-verse, violence isn’t always the answer. I adore that. Of course, this philosophy complicates the task of writing a satisfying ending. Audiences want to see the Big Bad™ roughed up. This is why employing “Love defeats Hate” isn’t a simple or easy way to write a story. And this is why the end of IT…stumbles. To make matters worse, the novel suffers from one of the worst tropes when it comes to female characters: the “Woman equals Love” trope, even the children’s part of the story. The newest movie has similar issues, but at least it didn’t involve raping an eleven/twelve year old girl. I do like the novel—just not that part of it. Which is why I was relieved it wasn’t in this movie. (Thank the gods.) Continue reading

The Intersection: Blackthorne and the Importance of Secondary Characters

17 Aug

There are many tools one can use for worldbuilding. A lot of them aren’t obvious to the reader—and in fact, I’d venture to say that the most effective techniques are those the reader doesn’t notice. This is how real life works. For example: events and cultural distinctions clearly affecting the world and those living in it but no one openly discusses are a big factor in everyday life.[1] Another of these hidden opportunities for worldbuilding involves secondary characters. One of the things I aspire to do is to populate my stories with any number of interesting characters capable of taking over the narrative. (Not that I let them.) Not only does it give the main characters people to interact with and thus further the plot, it’s realistic. Each of us thinks of ourselves as the main character of our story. Point of view characters in a novel are no different. However, we aren’t the only main character. Every “secondary character” we meet—doctors, neighbors, people on the street—is the main character of their own story in which we are the secondary character. That’s reality. In addition, well-developed secondary characters will sometimes alter the main character’s perspective of the world. This, too, is how the real world works. How many times have you encountered someone whose perspective on a situation altered your own? If you’re like me, quite a few. None of us operates in a vacuum. Characters in a narrative shouldn’t either. Continue reading

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