The Shape of Water: women and sex

I’ve had some time to think about The Shape of Water, which I saw a few weeks ago, and I have decided the thing that most impressed me about the film was not the beautiful composition, nor the aesthetic, nor, even, the commentary on how society attempts to break the outsiders among us into something palatable and how wrong that is. It was the way del Toro treated sex. Specifically, a woman’s sex.

Mild spoilers to follow for The Shape of Water.

shape of water

The movie, for those who haven’t seen it, opens with a sequence of the main character, Elisa, getting ready for her day at the super secret oceanic labs which are going to house the much-advertised fish-man. A very important part of Elisa’s evening is one that is most certainly not shown in film. Each evening, Elisa makes her lunch, runs a bath, climbs in, and masturbates. She does this one screen twice during the film, and each time the shot is framed in such a way as to do two things: to make it clear what she is doing, and to make it clear that you are not the target of it. This scene is not designed to titillate you, not exactly. It’s designed to make you acknowledge the complexity of being in a female body, a female who likes sex.

That last part is a very interesting aspect of Guillermo del Toro’s last two films, Shape of Water and Crimson Peak. In both of these films, the protagonist has been an adult woman. In both of the films, the protagonist has been in sexual situations – a romance arc being integral to the plots of both.

In neither film is the main character sexualized in the way that we, the audience, expect.

Crimson Peak is a good example of this. As the Bustle points out, at no point is Edith Cushing portrayed in any of the ways we expect women to be portrayed during sex. For one thing, she remains mostly out of view, her nakedness taking second fiddle to Thomas Sharpe’s. For another, she is clearly consenting, and her pleasure is accounted for. Del Toro manages to strike a careful, tender balance in this film. Edith is not the wide-eyed virgin, nor is she the ravenous whore. She is a woman, and Thomas is a man, and they are learning and experiencing together.

While the Bustle article crows that this is a new age for Hollywood, I for one have not noticed a sudden dearth of movies featuring the male gaze. I still find, far too often, moments in film that leave me lost and frustrated as I watch a rounded, interesting character become heavily objectified by the camera lens, or worse, a single woman installed as sexual window dressing to men’s struggles. (Kingsman is a terrible example of this, but I digress. We’re not here to talk about people who do this wrong. We’re here to talk about how del Toro does it right.)

Elisa’s role in this film could have easily been one of being unnecessarily sexualized. There were several moments that played off of the viewer’s expectations by skirting close to this but refusing to give into it. Aside from the initial masturbation scenes, one of the most notable ones is the scene where Richard Strickland traps Elisa in his office and makes advances towards her which are decidedly unwanted. This situation could have easily devolved into physical sexual violence. It does not.

In another notable scene, Elisa and her fish-man, unnamed for the duration of the film, have sex and are interrupted by her neighbor, Giles. While in many monster movies, the virginal female lead is the unwilling victim of the monster, in this case Elisa intentionally seeks out, befriends, and then seduces her monster. She is always the one in relative control – the fish-man cannot survive without her help. When Giles walks in on them, he sees a vision – Elisa embracing the fish-man, making clear, unashamed eye contact. Her naked body is not shown, and her position is not obviously erotic outside of that nakedness. The fish-man’s own form hides her, just as Thomas’ form hid Edith. It is not that we haven’t seen her skin before. It is that we see her, in all of her erotic glory, without any attempt at shame or degradation. Elisa is here because she wants to be. You will get no blushes, no guilt, from her.

There were several other things to love about this film. The decision to have a mute protagonist was something I worried about initially, but found myself very much enjoying. I love watching ASL, though I don’t really speak it. And my absolute favorite scene of the movie was also one that was heartbreaking – Giles being rejected at the pie shop was a well-functioning piece that drew clear parallels between the struggles of LGBTQ+ folks and racial minorities within society, with Giles finally speaking up in the face of racial injustice when he realized that it came from the same hegemony that had made his own life so miserable. There’s a lot that can be said about that, and I’m not the person to write it. And of course, as with every movie, there were flaws. I won’t list them here, but I recognize there were things that might have been done better.

All that said, I enjoyed the film, and I look forward to Guillermo del Toro’s next work, and his portrayal of the women in it.

 

 

The big screen in 2018

It’s a new year, which means so many new movies that I get to look forward to! Though I doubt that I will enjoy anything as much as I enjoyed Blade Runner 2049 and The Last Jedi in 2017, I’m willing to give all of these movies a chance. Most specifically, Black Panther and A Wrinkle in Time, my two most anticipated films for the year.

Something is going to surprise me, of course, and I am totally ready for that. No doubt I will also be disappointed as well. But for now, in release order, here are the stories I’m looking forward to seeing on the big screen in 2018.

MOTHERLAND_EW_Spread.40.fin.JPG

Black Panther – February 16th

Black Panther is the most anticipated movie of 2018, and so far the graphics and costume design, not to mention the casting, look amazing. I am going into this movie with a lot of nervous anticipation, mostly because I really, really don’t want Marvel to screw this up.

Annihilation – February 23rd

Yes! It’s finally here! I wrote about this movie last year, and it remains an anticipated film. I think that it’s going to be even creepier than I thought it would manage, and I’m feeling a little bit better about the direction they are taking with it (it seems like a combination of Annihilation and Authority, at least in part). The trailer released late last year, and February is just around the corner!

A Wrinkle in Time – March 9th

Have I mentioned how here I am for Storm Reid in A Wrinkle in Time? Making the decision to cast this movie so diversely is a wonderfully visionary one, and brings a refreshing newness to a well-loved text. I can’t wait for this film. If you haven’t seen the trailer, I recommend a watch.

a-wrinkle-in-time-poster-slice-600x200

Tomb Raider – March 16th

I am…possibly pretty skeptical about this movie, but I plan to see it. I loved Angelina Jolie’s Tomb Raider when I was a kid, flaws and all, so any reboot of the story is going to be a little hard for me, especially one that looks to deviate so drastically. I’m not really a fan of the game it’s based off of either, but I’m not a gamer to be fair. I will probably see this one, but I am going to be side-eyeing it.

Avengers: Infinity War – May 4th

So I’m not the only one in the universe who was really kind of meh about the last Avengers installment. However, Thor: Ragnarok gave me life and I have good feelings about Black Panther. I’ll be seeing this one in theaters, if only so that I can lambaste it with everyone else. I have to admit that I’m most interested in Captain America and Thor’s arcs in this film. Iron Man is getting annoying for me – Civil War sealed that, though I love RDJ in the other Iron Man films. However, it really felt like Captain America gained complexity in that film. Likewise, Thor did some growing and changing, too. While I still can’t forgive Whedon for the whole Natasha-Bruce love arc bullshit, I am interested to see how the team brings these new, evolved characters into the mix.

Solo: A Star Wars Story – May 25th

Continuing the side-eye situation, we have the Han Solo prequel. Will I see this? Let’s be honest here, the answer is yes. Am I skeptical of it being done well? Also yes. It’s going to be a hard sell to have anyone filling Harrison Ford’s shoes (or Billy Dee Williams’ for that matter). I’m at least more hopeful than I am for the Tomb Raider movie, if only because I have enjoyed all the other installments of the new Star Wars to date.

 

Mulan – November 2nd

Bringing up the end of the year, we have a live action of Mulan! This is part of Disney’s effort to make money off of past classics, and I will forgive them many prior indignities if they get this movie right. So far rumors are promising, but we shall see! Anyway, I’m far more excited about this movie than the prior three on this list.

What are you looking forward to watching in 2018?


Like this post? Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

What have I been reading?

I realized I haven’t shared with you all the magical things I’ve been reading and watching lately. Sure you got my “Best of 2017” post, but that’s not really indicative of all the things I’ve loved recently (though there were several things I enjoyed on it). Honestly, recovering from the holidays is taking a bit longer than I thought in terms of getting my feet back in under me, which is fine because reading all the books is, as ever, one of my favorite pastimes.

On the non-book front, I did go see Thor: Ragnarok when it came out way back in November, and it was so much fun. You got my post on The Last Jedi, and I finally made it to The Shape of Water, rounding out my anticipated movies of 2017 list. All of them were lovely, it’s been a great couple of months for movies honestly, though The Shape of Water was not quite what I was expecting – it struck me as a modern fairytale more than anything. In retrospect, that’s in like with del Toro’s style.

I’ve also been enjoying occasional forays into Brooklyn 99, which we discovered on our honeymoon and has become our chill date-night favorite. I finished Mahoutsukai no Yome, which started off super feel-good, got pretty dark, and then made it back to feel-good. It’s a found family situation with fairies, so despite some of the weird undertones with Chise being bought and sold, I’ve really enjoyed it. (I was really skeptical at first, but really it’s a pretty tame anime on the gender relations front.)

As for reads, I’ve enjoyed T. Kingfisher’s Seven Daughters, Mira Grant’s Into the Drowning Deep and M.R. Carey’s The Boy on the Bridge on the horror front. I’ve also been doing some reading into gothic literature, including checking out Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Gray, though I’ve only just started Dracula. I have consumed Seasons 1 and 2 of Roadtrip Z by Lilith Saintcrow, picked up because I’m looking into the serial publishing process and what that looks like. And for fun I read Grave by Michelle Sagara, finishing out the Queen of the Dead trilogy. A few of these may knock loose some reviews, etc. Pretty creepy reads lately, in other words, and more planned.

On the less horror front, I recently finished Elizabeth Bear’s The Stone in the Skull which was so very good. It’s set in the same world as A Range of Ghosts, and I think it’s honestly better. I didn’t think that was possible, but that’s how I feel. It pairs well with K. Arsenault’s The Tiger’s Wife if you’re looking to double up on your Asian-based fantasy worlds. I’ve also squeezed in Lightning in the Blood by Marie Brennan, a sequel in a series of novellas about archetypes who are reincarnated over and over, also an epic fantasy style deal. And I just started reading Conspiracy of Ravens by Lila Bowen, which is a weird western tale.

Lastly, I’ve got Oral History by Lee Smith to read. This is a deviation from my usual fare, but I thought I should read something by this Hollins author and also it is a bit in line with a project I’ve been working on. I’m holding on to it to read when I’m done with my first draft of said project, which should be sort of soon? Hopefully?

Anyway, there are lots of words going into the word-pit! Hopefully I will digest them and they will become magical new material.

What have you been reading?


Like this blog? Please consider supporting me on Patreon.

New Year’s Resolutions

It is a New Year and even though it feels kind of overwhelming to be thinking about resolutions at all I am going to take a stab at it. It helps that I’ve already got a schedule through April.

There are a couple of carryovers from last year, and I’ll get through those. But mostly these are new goals (eek) so let’s look at that.

  • Finish Daughter of Madness. This is the big elephant in the room. I’m hoping for an April release date. I am excited for folks to read this book, but it’s been in the works for a while now and I’m very interested in shifting gears to something else.
  • Finish APM. I may have mentioned this project before. It’s something I’ve been scribbling off and on for a few months now, and the goal is to get a draft wrapped up by March.
  • Successfully attend Futurescapes. Did I tell you all I got into this workshop? No? Well APM is the thing I will be work-shopping there, thus the need to have it finished in March. I told you it’s going to be a busy few months.
  • Successfully attend my planned events, RAI and MystiCon. These always both simultaneously inspire and take a lot out of me, so we will see how it goes! We’ve already started on MystiCon programming, actually.
  • Figure out my next novel project and start on it. Right now I’m on the fence about what project to pursue next. The next Creation Saga book is obviously high on the list, but I’ve had a couple of new novel ideas kicking around for a while and I would like to get started on them. I’ve also been researching doing a serialized novel or novella project for release on Patreon or Gumroad. A lot of this decision is going to depend on what happens between now and April, and whether or not people continue to support my Patreon, which I need to overhaul to comply with a more realistic projection of how much time I will be spending on it and what I can produce.
  • Be better at not over-committing myself, and on following through. I like to juggle things, and I like to be busy. I also enjoy my free time and alone time. It’s a conundrum. Keeping a good balance of juggling so that I don’t get bored and stay productive, and rest so that I don’t get burnt out and stay productive, is really hard. It might be easier if these were the only projects I were juggling. They’re not, and that will probably never be the case. Personal life, and, more often, work life will continue to intrude. I have to find a way to make all of those things balance, and it’s a constant negotiation. It’s one I’ve failed at the end of this year. We have to push ourselves and take chances, so I’m not exactly upset about failing that recently, but life is a marathon, not a sprint, or at least we hope it is. I’ve been sprinting this year and I need to learn to respect my limits.
  • Keep up with my short story craft. One of the things I’ve been glad of this year is that I’ve been exploring new mediums, including short stories. I am not a natural short story writer, I don’t think. It’s hard to tell for sure, of course, but so far I’ve been short listed twice and never successfully sold something. Considering my production rate, I don’t think those are terrible numbers, but having a short story publication under my belt can only help both my self-publishing sales and my chance of diversifying my income and market reach through traditional publishing. All of which is to say that getting a short story published, or five, would be great. So I’m going to keep chipping away at that and hope it works out.

Okay, those are my goals! There are decidedly less than last year for sanity purposes. I look forward to chiming in on my progress in June!

Hope you all have a great 2018! Let me know if you have any fun goals for this year.


Want to support my blog and writing? Please check out my Patreon or buy my books!