Last night was film night at St. Andrew’s-Wesley. A group of us gathered before the big screen in the Salons to watch “The Shape of Water,” the film that received 13 Academy Award nominations and won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. The film describes itself as “a fairy tale for troubled times.”
One quality of our troubled times today is alienation. A sense of low-grade but prevailing anxiety was true in the Cold War era in which the film is set, and it’s true today. Caught in a tragic cycle, fear of difference sets us apart, and the resulting isolation heightens fear. In the film, a brief but powerful example of this happens in a pie-shop when an African-American couple enters the diner and begin to take a seat on a bar stool at the counter.
The server says that it’s “take out only for your kind.”
“But there’s a whole row of open bar stools,” she protests.
“Every stool is reserved, every day.”
Then he adds, “Maybe it’s just best that you leave.”
And then he turns to Giles, a gay man, and says curtly, “It’s best you leave too. This is a family restaurant.”
Having turned his customers away, he’s left feeling smug in his imagined superiority…and alone, disconnected.
There are some who break through the isolation and refuse to live in a world of alienation. They’re the ones who do not belittle or objectify someone or something that is different, but find ways to connect, communicate and appreciate. In “The Shape of Water,” an African-American cleaning lady, her workmate who is mute, an unemployed gay man, a Russian scientist and a creature from the Amazon River find ways to connect. They see each other. They matter to each other. They even find a way through their significant differences to love. Their courage to be with and for each other gives purpose, meaning, perhaps even salvation.
Through astonishing difference, one character observed, “We are all made in love.” Some see that abiding truth; to their peril, others don’t. The film creatively shows that when we do see how we are all made in love, there’s joy at the end of it.
The film closes with this beautiful poem which could be said about a lover or the Lover that is God:
Unable to perceive the shape of You,
I find You all around me.
Your presence fills my eyes with Your love,
It humbles my heart,
For You are everywhere.