The Shape of Water

Hey there, friends and fans! I have been wanting to watch The Shape of Water since I first saw the announcement about it. I was beyond disappointed to miss it in theaters, but I am ecstatic to say that I finally got to see it this week. I can very easily say that I am not at all surprised that it won and was nominated for so many awards. The film absolutely oozes sophistication and originality. I can honestly say it is one my favorite films of all time.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the film, it’s a tale of a mute woman in 1960’s America who realizes the institution she works for is studying a creature that is basically a modern version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Directed by Guillermo del Toro, this film studies a number of themes including race relations, equality, sexuality, and personal identity. Our main character, Elisa, goes from a monotonous life with her friends and coworkers, almost invisible to the powers that be, to a bold and courageous woman, a hero to this creature that has otherwise known pain and judgement from modern man (aside from apparently being treated like a god by an unnamed Amazonian tribe that is).

I was enthralled from the start of this movie and I truly didn’t want it to end. I found Elisa to be an incredible person, with a nearly infallible character. Elisa’s entire experience with the creature was that he accepted her, he loved her, he made her feel whole and special for the first time in her life. As a mute woman, she was no stranger to mocking and disrespect, a tertiary character in the film repeatedly referring to her as ‘mutie’ and ‘dummy’ (a common colloquial term for those unable to speak in the past was that they were dumb or , if they also could not hear, deaf and dumb). So it was very important for her that this humanoid creature didn’t see her in terms of her difference, the explanation of which is one of the more endearing and heartbreaking scenes in the film for me. The themes of acceptance and equality steer this movie in a direction that couldn’t even have been hinted at in the trailers. From the homosexual neighbor, the African American friend, the mute orphan woman with an unknown background, to the otherworldly creature – each and every one of them is discriminated against in this world. Each and every one of them is met with opposition and stifled in some way throughout the film. And they band together. They stand in light of adversity and they win. They are each targeted by the ‘average, white, American male’ and they come out on top.

Persistence, decency, and love basically run the film’s two hour run time and bring us a tale that honestly warms the heart. From Elisa’s friendship with Giles, to her instant attempt at understanding with the creature, dubbed Amphibian Man by the film’s credits, the characters show us a bit about what it means to be human. Even the moderate humorous elements of the film stand to teach a lesson in humility and understanding.

I was intrigued to see the continued use of water itself and its own importance in Elisa’s life even before meeting the Amphibian Man. From her daily bath, to the boiling eggs, to the very image of rain itself, water is one of the most important elements of life and of the film.

I think the only thing that really threw me off about the film was the ending itself. I do like the open-ended nature of the story, but the transformation element is one that was a little odd for me.

Overall the film is an absolutely incredible work of art. It is a love story written for love stories themselves. Guillermo del Toro wanted to create a story and film stronger than anything, that could fill any space and be exactly what it needs to be – just as water is. And The Shape of Water is exactly that. With an amazing cast, an incredible message, and a story that will remain as timeless as its presentation, this film is one that will forever be in the annals of film history. The message of equality and the almost demand for justice for all those affected by prejudice of any kind could not have come at a better time in this world, either. In a political climate consistently pushed toward discrimination and judgement and a social tendency for the same, this film is beacon of light in the darkness that has plagued mankind. To me, the message is clear: we all need to come together in love and understanding and put an end to the meaningless squabbles that arise over minor differences. The separation and judgement that affects daily life in this world has to come to an end before we truly destroy teach other, ourselves, and what beauty remains in this world. Of course, until such a thing happens, this film and works of art that hold similar themes will remain of the utmost importance.

But what did you guys think of the film? Have you seen it yet? Did you read as deeply into it as I did, or was it just another movie for you? I’d love to know your thoughts. As always, I’m definitely interested in hearing about what you guys want to read about here or hear about in the podcast. Leave me comments or reach out to me on my contact page on my website. I hope you guys are enjoying the holiday season, and I wish you all the best in the last few weeks of 2018!

**The featured image of this post is an original image by Edgewise Art (https://facebook.com/edgewise.art/): I retain no rights to the image, nor did I have any part in creating it.

Stand, Sit, Whine

Anyone who sees any kind of mass media news, be it via TV, newspaper or even just Facebook, has seen the latest (although not really new) scandal rocking our nation’s collective conscience. Some athletes have chosen to sit, kneel, or stand and not participate during the National Anthem. How terrible! How can we ever overcome this latest threat to our once-great unified country? Surely this will bring the end of all happiness as we know it. Funny thing the sun’s still shining and we’re still free (for now), though, ain’t it? Since Kaepernick decided he was going to take a knee last year during the National Anthem in support of his desire for equality and unity, the whole country has more or less gone batshit crazy over it. Now, a number of others have chosen to take up this mantle and do the same, with entire professional teams making the choice to stand out of the public eye or drop a knee during the song that we have adopted to show our strength as a nation. Their reasons are similar, for the most part. This country is becoming more divided each day, with massive amounts of people waging active assaults against those they see as ‘different,’ ‘less equal,’ or ‘dangerous’ (read; bullshit excuse for racism). Sensible people want to see that behavior come to an end, and this is how some have chosen to make a difference.

Before I continue here, let me say that I don’t have a dog in this fight. I can stand, I can sit or I can play hopscotch – because I know it is my right. I’m not calling out the sitters or the kneelers any more than I am calling out the people who stand and shed tears every time they hear the words we all know by heart before first grade. What I am calling out is the ridiculous fight about the whole thing. I understand that many people feel it is their (our?) duty to stand and sing along with the National Anthem, perhaps while they imagine fighter jets circling overhead, fireworks exploding in the background and bald eagles laying eggs filled with freedom all around them. But then again maybe that’s a bit much. Regardless, a lot of people find it a point of pride that they are free enough to stand and belt out the tune that has stood the test of time in honoring our country and what it stands for. I get that and I fully respect it. As someone with family who has served in the armed forces and in-laws who both have and continue to serve, I feel that pride and honor as well. I’m insanely happy and grateful to live in this country and I can be the most patriotic individual you’ve ever seen in the most clichéd sense of the term – but along with that comes the knowledge that if I choose not to stand there is not a single thing that can make me.

My great-uncle, my friends, my in-laws have all served this country, fought for this county, had their lives inexplicably changed in service for this country, so that I can have the right and freedom to make the choices I want to make. While seeing the stories about this ridiculous controversy (why does everything have to be a controversy??), one of the things we see quite often is a large amount of people screaming about how generations of soldiers have died in battle so that people could stand while the National Anthem plays. This is often accompanied by the political cartoon that depicts soldiers in fatigues correctly stating they are actually fighting for our right to sit OR stand during the song. But you know, that must be an exaggeration, right? Soldiers who fought for our freedom can’t have been fighting for total freedom, right? They were fighting only for the freedom for us to live and work and worship freely, but there must be a clause in there somewhere saying we have to stand during the anthem. Wrong again.

One of the greatest things about this nation is the freedom we have to live and worship and serve as we please – as long as it is not damaging another’s right to do the same. So explain to me again how someone kneeling during the National Anthem hinders your right to stand and sing and hoop, holler and cry. That’s right. It doesn’t.

What hinders someone’s right to be free is thousands of people shouting about how someone kneeling is wrong. It is free citizens calling for the punishment and even imprisonment of people exercising their rights. It is the president calling those kneelers “sons of bitches” in front of the whole world and calling for their dismissal from their jobs. The only thing hindering anyone’s right here is the injustice being done to the people who are making a stand for unity. The National Anthem is a song of pride and strength, meant to symbolize the power and unity displayed by this country, even in its darkest hours. It is a song that is intended to fuel the strength and honor we as citizens of the United States are able to feel knowing that we live in a free country. There’s that word again. Free. A free country. That’s what we are. That’s one of the things that sets the United States apart from other countries. We are free. I am absolutely free to get up tomorrow morning and put on a T-shirt celebrating my favorite band or author or tourist destination and go to work listening to rock & roll music and, if I feel like it, I can choose to sit and observe while others sing the National Anthem. And, ideally, that would be perfectly acceptable. It hinders no one’s freedom and it harms no one’s right to stand and sing.

The problem comes when we try to force people to do what we want them to do. The more dangerous situation comes in when the government tries to step in and force people to stand, act or react a certain way to the anthem. Freedom means we’re free. If our government is allowed the power to tell us we have to stand and react a certain way to a song being played before a sporting event (or anywhere for that matter), that government is no longer supporting the rights of a free country. It is a totalitarian system that is infringing on the rights of everyone. In a perfect world everyone would be truly equal, would be treated as such, and there wouldn’t be a large faction of people being discriminated against. There wouldn’t be murder and racism dividing our country hundreds of years after we fought a war to help end it. And there wouldn’t HAVE to be people who feel the need to take a knee during our nation’s song in order to fight the injustice running rampant in its borders. But that is not the world we live in, is it?

Innocent people are ridiculed, judged, even murdered for the color of their skin or their place of birth EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. We are in the 21st century, people. We are all people, we all bleed red, we all deserve freedom and life and rights. Maybe instead of focusing so damn hard on what people are doing when a song plays over a loudspeaker, we should focus more on why they choose to do it. If we want to truly unify and be a country, we have to learn to stop trash-talking people who live, act or believe differently than we do. Then, and only then, will the National Anthem be able to stand for what it was truly intended to stand for. So next someone takes a knee during the song, how about you ask them why they made that choice instead of feeling offended. As much as it pains me to say it this way; snowflakes do melt. The cold weight of injustice doesn’t.

It’s a Sin to Kill a Mockingbird

Ok guys, this month’s book was an incredible classic, of course. I have been enamored with the book since the first time I picked it up more than a decade ago. There is such a powerful message in the pages, and it has so much weight, even more than half a century later. If we’re being honest, it’s probably just as if not more relevant than before, given the rampant bigotry and racism ruling society these days, but that’s a completely different discussion. Let’s dive in!

First and foremost, as a true son of the South, I love that this book is set right in the heart of the area where racism has perhaps done some of the worst damage. Reading a book that was written in such a simple, uncomplicated and conversational style – yet with such a pregnant message – that included vernacular I’m familiar with is definitely something that makes the book a joy to come back to again and again. Scout is the quintessential rough-and-tumble girl that we all knew growing up. As a matter of fact, if anything, we realize that it is this exact quality that helps her be so strong in the face of what is happening in her town and her home. Of course, we see in the sequel – which was actually written first – that she never changes from this persona, her innocence and strength deriving from the influence this attitude has on her approach to life.

Scout herself is one of the reasons this book is so great for readers of all age groups. She can be understood by everyone who reads the words running through her mind. I can honestly say I have’t met anyone who didn’t relate to Scout in at least some way. her strength in the face of the things that try to break her down and her determination that Tom Robinson deserves justice – as well as her general disdain mixed with a lack of understanding for discrimination of any kind – makes her a character that has survived as a near heroin in my mind. One of the best scenes with Scout comes when she is speaking to the group of angry men outside the courthouse. Scout is doing nothing more than being polite, but she manages to single-handedly diffuse the situation and bring these angry men to their senses, very likely saving Tom and her father without even trying.

The themes of equality and misunderstanding and the blatant condemnation of racism in this book still fascinate me. I see the racism in the world around me now, with people being told to leave the country based on the color of their skin, regardless of where they were born, and entire races and groups of people being torn down by hatred on a daily basis, and I realize that even now it isn’t as bad as it was then. When a black man can be condemned for a crime he obviously didn’t commit just because of the color of his skin and no one bats an eye is insane. Granted, similar things do happen now, there are at least more people standing against such behavior. Knowing that Harper Lee wrote this book speaking out against such unfair treatment of people makes my heart soar. While knowing that so many people haven’t listened hurts deeply.

The character of Atticus has always stood out as a good, strong man in my mind as well –  let’s not discuss the negative comments in “Go Set a Watchman.” I admire the way he taught his children about equality and fairness. Atticus, despite the generalization of the time the book was written, was an amazing father to his children and he instilled in them the hope of a new generation, the essence of equality, and the role of acceptance that men of his own generation so clearly never exhibited. I think this really was Lee’s own dissatisfaction with the world coming out in her writing. She understood humanity and equality and she wrote it with strength and confidence. She stood strong in the face of adversity and showed the world how wrong this behavior was.

I think the biggest question the book raises is whether Boo Radley or Scout is intended to be the greater example of innocence here. Boo, a man who seems to be mentally disabled, is the subject of so much rumor and speculation (which happens too often in Maycomb) and is, in turn, a feared sort of boogeyman figure to the kids. They taunt each other and dare each other to go touch the house or sneak into the garden. And we never see Boo retaliate in anger. In the end we see that Boo, despite being feared, has actually been leaving gifts for the kids, fixes Jem’s pants, and even saves Jem’s life. Regardless, I love the character. He stands for so much in my opinion, that I could could go on for hours about the misconceptions he is faced with and who I think he really is both in the novel and to the literature itself. In a sentence; Boo Radley is the withdrawn control, not joining society, therefore not being damaged by it.

I don’t think I have any real critiques of the book that stand out, other than the fact that I still hate Scout’s aunt and don’t really care much for Dill. I understand their overall contribution to the book, but they were more like annoyances to be dealt with than beneficial characters in my opinion. My biggest problem would be that racism did, in fact, prevail in the case of Tom Robinson, even though he was obviously innocent. The fact that he was shot for committing no crime at all, while an abusive man was let off free is a harsh reminder of the way the world was – and still is – an entirely unfair place. But that’s the point of the book, right? We have to expose the negative behavior so we can fix it.

But what did you think? What are your thoughts on a book that has been so controversial over the years that it has even landed on banned book lists across the U.S.? I hope you’ll all weigh in on the discussion, and definitely let me know what your suggestions are for future reads! I love participation and comments. Share this far and wide and let’s have a big discussion!