“Since childhood, I’ve been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them, because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing,” said Guillermo del Toro while receiving his award for best director earlier this year at the Golden Globes. It’s a beautiful sentiment that goes a long way toward explaining the appeal of the filmmaker’s The Shape of Water. Case in point, the comment left by one Marisa Damele to a Variety article announcing that del Toro had been selected to head the jury at the next Venice Film Festival: “Guillermo del Toro knows how to make us realize, with every one of his films, that some monsters have beauty inside, while some good looking humans are hiding a monster in their interior. Not everything is what it looks like. See through the package. This is the message. He is brilliant.”
Del Toro is a profoundly gifted formalist with a uniquely perverse obsession with the binaries that separate us as human beings, and with The Shape of Water he, per our critic Chuck Bowen, “is aiming for critique via contrast, proffering a rosy vision of romantic acceptance that’s pointedly unpalatable to a real-life society governed by boundaries and biases.” Whether you actually feel that critique is successful depends on how you measure success. The Shape of Water was nominated for 13 Academy Awards, more than any other film this year, suggesting that del Toro’s vision is very much palatable in a time when the president of the United States is nothing if not devoted to whipping up growing waves of hatred against all minorities.
When del Toro started to write The Shape of Water, he surely didn’t foresee just how much of a salve the film would represent. It’s impossible to know how his film will be remembered, but it’s easy to see that, in the present day, it represents a kind of torchbearer, born in a time of less political discontent and devoted to advancing the belief that pop culture at large, not just the genre works flitting around in its margins, is capable of being less indifferent toward difference. There are certainly those who believe that he isn’t the auteur hero nominated in this category who should win this award, but many would argue that del Toro is the one we need to win.
Will Win: Guillermo del Toro, The Shape of Water
Could Win: Christopher Nolan, Dunkirk
Should Win: Paul Thomas Anderson, Phantom Thread