Part 4—Not a monster, they said: If we listen to to Hollywood's industry guild, the best movie of 2017 was the one which was built around Monster.
According to various experts, The Shape of Water includes three levels of Monster. Let's define what they are:
First, the film involves a literal "monster," a creature half-fish and (perhaps) half-man. As it turned out, this "monster" was actually lovable—even willing to get it on!
The film also involves a metaphorical monster—Strickland, the lunatic racist sadistic Southern bigot. Strickland is a lunatic all the way down, as his love for his "Alabama howdedoo" cattle prod lets the slowest film-goer know.
So far, that's two types of monster. But below the surface of this film, a third kind of monster is swimming around, a demographic monster. This third type of monster is men—and no, we don't even mean white men, a point which comes clear rather late in the film when the lazy, shiftless, offensive black husband instantly kowtows to Strickland, selling out his deserving wife and the lovable literal monster.
The shiftless black husband never says, "Yassuh, boss." But he comes very close.
(Note: according to this film, a man can be decent and good if 1) he's an older gay men or 2) he's a Soviet spy. Canadian men are Southern bigots too. Meanwhile, government scientists piss on both the ceiling and floor, forcing overnight cleaning women to mop their urine up.)
This is the way the monster del Toro builds his "fairy tales!" In fairness, it was possible to enjoy this film's "unconventional love story" without noticing the monster stories lurking beneath, and quite a few liberals did.
We liberals! We're used to enjoying portraits of monsters like Strickland. How we managed to sit through that black husband scene, which is straight outta racist portraiture—well, we'll call that one for the books.
The Shape of Water is built upon the need for Monster. Out in Tinseltown, the dumbest, least moral people on Earth—the people who wouldn't speak up about Harvey—named it best film of the year.
By all accounts, their runner-up was Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This film is built upon Monster too—rather, it's built upon Stereotype, a well-known first cousin to Monster.
Mainstream critics didn't hugely like either one of these films. We'll provide the surprising numbers in an afternoon post.
That said, by all accounts, the guild thought Three Billboards was second best film of the year. We'll guess they thought that because they enjoyed its service to Stereotype, in which a high-minded fellow from Over There helped us enjoy a mocking portrait of what Those People are like.
In this instance, Those People are rural so-called whites. Specifically, the film presents people from the Ozarks—and they're cosmically, comically dumb.
It isn't just the spectacularly dumb (and violent) deputy sheriff, who comes to us via Barney Fife and Sam Wood, the peckerwood deputy sheriff from In the Heat of the Night.
It isn't just the deputy sheriff, who, at various times, seems to be mentally challenged. It's also his dumb bunny mother, or the otrher comically dumb deputy sheriffs, with whom he attempts to work.
It's also the spectacularly stupid but smokin' hot 19-year-old girl friend of the much older former husband. It's the comical dumbness of the kid who runs the advertising agency, along with the spectacular dumbness of his smokin' hot young assistant, who offers the same absurd performance that the 19-year-old girl friend does.
The dumbness is general among Those People in this second-best film of the year. It even exists in the good guy sheriff, who can't stop cussing a blue streak in front of his adorable young daughters. Apparently, Those People are like that!
(Somehow, he has a movie star-looking wife who speaks with an Australian accent and throws off a reference to Oscar Wilde. This is offset by the fact that the town, inevitably, has its own dwarf, a dwarf with a drinking problem! On the brighter side, black people in Ebbing, Missouri all seem to be rural Rhodes scholar types. Such are the joys of Stereotype, first cousin to Monster.)
Does any of this bullshit seem real in this, the second-best film? Forget the three billboards she erected—does it seem real that a grieving mother will assault her dentist with his own drill; will kick two high school kids in the nuts (one of the kids is a girl!); and will proceed to firebomb the police station, presumably burning it down?
Apparently this is just the way Those People behave! The mother doesn't get arrested for burning the police station down. The deputy doesn't get arrested for pistol-whipping the billboard boy, then throwing him out of a (second-story) window.
On Main Street, in broad daylight! It's just the way Those People behave! Or so we're apparently told by the latest "auteur" Over There.
Tinseltown has always had a fondness for these types of Stereotype, second cousin to Monster. Don't miss Rosalind Russell's lunatic breakdown in Picnic, the 1955 Best Picture nominee which teaches us that Those People are generally mentally ill, due to the massive boredom involved in being forced to live their pitiful lives.
(See also Splendor in the Grass—same original author—where life outside The Village is so hard to bear that the young Natalie Wood ends up in a mental institution. Her mother is basically crazy too. Don't even ask about Warren Beatty's lunatic father, who kills himself, or his wacky, overwrought sister.)
Hollywood loves these games. Mainstream critics didn't thrill to The Shape of Water or to Three Billboards, but due to their reliance on Monster, the guild apparently made these films the last two picture shows standing.
The longing for Monster is hardwired into our prehuman brains. In recent weeks, we've seen several decent people suggest that we should stop insisting on Monster.
First, we saw Jennifer Willoughby, second ex-wife (and accuser) of Trump aide Rob Porter. Speaking with Anderson Cooper (and others), Willoughby wisely and decently turned her back on Monster:
COOPER (2/8/18): There was one other thing you wrote, and then I want to take a break for a moment. You wrote, about why you stayed, "If he was a monster all the time, perhaps it would be easier to leave, but he could be kind and sensitive, and so I stayed. He cried and apologized, and so I stayed. He offered to get help and even went to a few counseling session and therapy groups, and so I stayed."We'd recommend Willoughby's decency and insight.
WILLOUGHBY: Yes. You know, this is a question—I specifically wrote that because that's a question I'm asked a lot, is, "Why did you stay if he was a, quote/unquote, monster?" And the reality is, he's not a monster. He is an intelligent, kind, chivalrous, caring, professional man. And he is deeply troubled and angry and violent. I don't think those things are mutually exclusive.
Willoughby suggested we walk away from our longing for Monster. That very same week, we were revisiting an award-winning book from 1974.
The book in question is Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made, winner of the Bancroft Prize in 1975. It was the successor to the 1969 book, The World the Slaveholders Made.
In truth, Roll, Jordan, Roll is too academic for full popular use. Still, Professor Genovese includes fascinating portraits of "the astonishing effort of black people to live decently as human beings even in slavery," "one of history's greatest recorded crimes."
We're quoting here from the book's preface, in which Genovese explicitly suggests that we walk away from thinking of people as "monsters." Within the modern context, his specific statement is so incorrect that we won't repeat it here, but we do recommend his advice, along with the rest of the book.
Not long after that, we came across another rejection of Monster. We've quoted that rejection before. It comes from the new memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of Black Lives Matter:
KHAN-CULLORS (page 15): I will not think of this particular incident until years later, when the reports about Mike Brown start flowing out of Ferguson, Missouri, and he is morphed by police and the press from a beloved 18-year-old boy, a boy who was heading to college and a boy who was unarmed, into something like King Kong, an entity swollen, monster-like, that could only be stopped with bullets that were shot into the top of his head. Because that is what this cop did to him. He shot bullets into the top of his head as he knelt on the ground with his hands up.Was the late Michael Brown morphed into a monster after his death, by police and by the press? Khan-Cullors gives no examples of this, but she wants Brown to be remembered as someone who was loved.
We think that's good advice. That said, we couldn't help noticing the degree to which Khan-Cullors invents monsters at various points in her book—for example, in the paragraph we've just posted, and through her amazingly selective account of the death of a second young man.
We humans are strongly drawn to Monster and its various cousins, including Stereotype. Tinseltown's flyweights have always loved these games.
In our modern floundering state, we liberals seem to love Monster more and more with each passing day. It's one of the ways we got President Trump. Aside from the dumbness of living for Monster, how happy are we about that?
One last word about Stereotype:
If you've come to love Stereotype, you can't see it occurring. So it went when we liberals attended the past year's best two films.
If you love it, you can't see it! In hideous places like Ebbing, Missouri, Those People frequently can.