The Shape of Water

As the temperatures in my area were arctic this weekend, I did a rare thing:  I went to the movies twice.  My first movie was The Shape of Water.  I had read about this and was very impressed with Guillermo de Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.  However, having seen the dark fairy tale of Pan’s Labyrinth, I was prepared to expect some graphic violence and yes, it is there.  The story, however, is about difference and how our fear of it leads to our own destruction. But acceptance can redeem us.   Each of the characters, both good and bad, are isolated from the rest of the world because of some aspect of non-normalcy, of difference.  The main character is, of course, an aquatic person who is treated as a monster creature by his captives but profoundly accepted by the janitor Elisa Esposito, a mute who was abandoned at birth with scars to indicate that someone had cut her vocal chords, depriving her of speech.  Her friend Giles is gay and suffers from the  rejection by the society around him, the early 60s in Baltimore.  Elisa’s friend at work is black, exemplifies courage  and looks out for her but is marginalized for being who she is.  Dr. Hoffstetler is the scientist with compassion for the creature as he observes Elisa communicate with him but he is also a Russian and this takes place in the middle of the Cold War.  In the end his own countrymen execute him  The villain of the fable is Richard Strickland and while one cannot help but hate his cruelty and torture of all around him, he too is afloat in a world where he is rejected and dismissed.  Instead of reaching out to others, his response is to try to kill anything different.  Similar to the ending of  Pan’s Labyrinth, the finale leaves us with the hope that  magical realism offers, a fairy tale ending that suggests it is both true and yet possibly but a dream.  We humans cling to that one item left in Pandora’s Box where all evil, illness, cruelty, and divisiveness escaped.  We were left with hope.

My second movie was both completely different and oddly similar:  Call Me by Your Name–a coming of age story set in 1982 Italy where a professor’s summer assistant falls in love with the professor’s 17 year old son.  This love relationship is a secret one as both are young men.  Tuscany plays a leading role in this beautifully imagistic film which borrows images from Hellenistic statuary of sensuous young men to echo the flesh and blood relationship as it slowly develops.  Desire, fear, regret, and joy intermingle with the ripe apricots that grow on the orchard trees.  However, here too, Oliver, the assistant, leaves and during the winter snow, calls Elio and tells him that he is engaged to get married.  The sadness is the abandonment of identity so as to fit in, to “be normal.”  Yet both young men are Jewish–yet another form of otherness in their social settings.

Both movies trace the importance of courage in facing who we are, and who others may be–however different,  Hope offers an alternative ending to tragedy:  we can be ourselves and accept others.  We can offer eggs as friendship to an alien water being.  Just as Bach can be transformed through the lenses of Liszt and Busoni into other forms, so too can we humans see humanity in the face of the other.  And how wondrous that experience might be if we can let it happen.

LIttle Red Riding Hood

In my paper presented at the ID-Net Conference on Play this past July I wrote about Kieran Egan‘s theory of imagination and how young children think about the world differently based on their imaginative schemas.  Specifically I focused on the mythic and imaginative forms of thinking.  I chose the fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood to explore the ways in which even very young children abstract big ideas from their stories.  Simply looking at images of Red Riding Hood can open up fascinating doors for reflection.  For example, take these two illustrations/art works:

Kiki Smith's work

Kiki Smith’s work

Walter Crane (1875) illustration for the story

Walter Crane (1875) illustration for the story









Each image offers up a world.  Kiki Smith depicts the grandmother and Little Red Riding Hood as emerging from the body of the wolf.  Women have often been associated with animals, the material and sensuous (wild, non-rational)  nature.  The red of the cape emerges out of the blood of the wolf: death, life–the bleeding that women experience and that terrifies the male psyche.  From Crane’s traditional portrait of the girl meeting the wolf  we recognize the wolf as male- as threatening to the girl.  He wears the veneer of civilization in his clothing but the tail, sharp teeth, and lolling tongue betray his lustful and destructive nature.  As Egan guides us we recognize the big binary ideas of male/female, human/animal, death/life, safety/danger.  Young children grasp the import of these stories as far broader and deeper than simply amusing tales of long ago and far away.

For one more fascinating rethinking of the Little Red Riding Hood story, check out this video.  I thank the Blogger on Dog Art for finding this creative revisiting.