Part 2—Our longing for Different attacked: Can we talk? The film critics at the New York Times didn't much like the monster movie which swam off with this year's top prize.
At year's end, A. O. Scott did include The Shape of Water among the year's 21 best films. That said, he didn't put it on his top ten list.
Manohla Dargis was much less kind. She didn't include The Shape of Water in her list of the year's 40 (forty) top films! But on Sunday evening, in Tinseltown, the industry gave The Shape of Water the Oscar as the year's best!
Yesterday morning, the critics extended their failure to gush in this post-Oscar conversation. "I wish...another movie had won best picture," Dargis grouchily said.
That said, very few critics around the nation had included The Shape of Water on their "ten best" lists—except in Los Angeles, where the film appeared on the bulk of such lists, often placed very high.
In this earlier report, we puzzled over this phenomenon. Why had a film the mainstream critics didn't much like received so many Oscar nominations? And why had it been rated so highly by Los Angeles critics?
Last Friday, the Times' Cara Buckley may have provided an answer. As she correctly predicted the winners of all six major awards, she said this about Guillermo del Toro, the monster movie's director:
"Mr. del Toro is widely respected and deeply liked..."In Hollywood, he's "deeply liked" (a good thing to be). We had guessed that this could be part of the answer we sought.
The Shape of Water made very few mainstream top ten lists, and yet it was named Best Picture! In part, this may have happened because del Toro is deeply liked. But we'll guess the answer also lies in the way the film responded to our current deep longing for Monster.
The Shape of Water satisfies this primal longing in two different ways. On the one hand, it gives us a literal "monster," a fishman a lonely mute woman can love.
Indeed, the film is explicitly based on the 1954 3-D groaner, Creature from the Black Lagoon. In that classic monster movie from a less developed era, the fishman in question abducts a woman, the alluring Julie Adams.
The Shape of Water gives us an updated fishman. It gives us a caring, sensitive fishman, a "monster" a person could love.
That said, the film satisfies our longing for Monster in a second, less literal way. Personally, we found this part of the film somewhat vile throughout. By the time the film was helping us loathe the shiftless black husband who shuffles his feet as he bows to The Man, we thought it was explicitly vile.
What kind of non-literal "monster" does The Shape of Water give us? Spoiler alert:
A type of monster for whom our liberal tribe deeply longs!
We'll return to this topic by the end of the week. But before we continue discussing our longing for Monster, let's consider a related longing:
Let's consider our longing for Different.
This very morning, we heard lusty cheers in the analysts' subsistence quarters. Still chained to their cots, the youngsters were cheering the rare New York Times guest op-ed column—a column which made perfect sense.
The column was written by John Quiggin, "a senior research fellow in economics at the University of Queensland." Indeed, the Times had been forced to go spanning the globe to produce a headline like this:
‘Millennial’ Means NothingGood lord! Right from the jump, the man from Down Under was attacking our longing for Different! We're dividing ourselves on the basis of birthdate. This is pure guff, he said:
QUIGGIN (3/7/18): ‘Millennial’ Means NothingQuiggin is kinder than we are. We would have said that this "generation game" does more harm than good by making us even dumber than we already were.
The Pew Research Center announced last week that it will define people born between 1981 and 1996 as members of the millennial generation, embracing a slightly narrower range of years than the ones used by the United States Census Bureau. It would have been better, though, if it had announced the end of what I call the “generation game”—the insistence on dividing society into groups based on birth year and imputing different characteristics to each group.
Yes, limited insights can be gleaned from thinking of humans in terms of generations, but this ultimately does more harm than good by obscuring the individual factors that actually shape our attitudes, politics and opportunities.
Quiggins took the kinder, gentler, more thoughtful approach. From those opening grafs, he proceeds to use the "millennial generation" as a way to critique our "insistence on dividing society into groups based on birth year and imputing different characteristics to each group."
As Quiggin notes, limited insights can be gleaned from this popular practice. Still, the impulse to lump people into "generations" just isn't one of our brightest moves.
And yet, we're strongly attracted to the practice. (For one example, you can watch Michael Wilbon attack "the millennials" on ESPN almost any day of the week, as Kornheiser rolls his eyes.)
In yesterday's report, we discussed our prehuman longing for Villain. That isn't the same as our longing for Monster, and this longing for Different constitutes a third way to go off the rails.
That said, these impulses all float around in the sea called the longing for Other. From deep within our reptilian brain, we're strongly inclined to divide the world into Us and Them.
We humans! We used to based this unhelpful act on "race," ethnicity, gender, religion. In recent decades, we've gone all in on this new route to division.
Still and all, we're here this week to discuss the longing for Monster. It's a deeply destructive impulse, and it strongly drives the modern behavior of our own badly floundering tribe.
Did Tinseltown love The Shape of Water in part because it fulfilled our longing for Monster? We'll ponder that question before we're done. We'll guess that the answer is yes.
Tomorrow: The late Michael Brown wasn't "a monster," Patrisse Khan-Cullors says