The Shape Of Water was a beautiful film, with gorgeous visual effects, excellent music, and a heart-wrenching storyline with love and drama and a little more graphic blood than I would have liked, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

Bechdel Test Results

Film: The Shape of Water

1. Is there more than one woman with a first name? Yes. Only two who are characters (Elisa and Zelda), and a third whose name is mentioned (Yolanda).

2. Do those women have a conversation? Yes. Zelda and Elisa are good friends and colleagues. They talk to each other throughout the entire movie.

3. Is their conversation about something other than men? No. Zelda mostly rants about her husband and the hygiene in the men’s facilities. When Elisa speaks, she talks about the creature, which is labelled very early in the film as a he. Thus, all of their dialogue is actually about men.

Which is a shame, really. There’s no particular reason the film had to fail. But it did.

Some films don’t pass Bechdel and it makes sense – for example, in a true story, I understand the desire to be true to the gender identity of the people in the original story. So let’s take an example of a film released right around the same time which was based on a true story: The Post.

The Post passed Bechdel. It was still a little tight, but Katherine Graham’s relationship with her daughter emphasized her central role. Notice though, that The Post fails POC Bechdel – and it’s understandable, because it makes sense that most of the people who worked in the White House and were invited to Katherine Graham’s parties were not people of color. It’s an uncomfortable reality, but then, it’s based on a true story.

The Shape of Water is fiction. Which means someone chose genders for each and every one of those characters. You can argue that Strickland and General Hoyt really needed to be men, being in elite government positions, but what about the artist? The guy from the bakery? Strickland’s assistant? The scientist? The Landlord? Any one of those could have been women.

And what about the creature?

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Here I was honestly disappointed at the decision to so blatantly label him as a man. He’s made up. He’s not human. They have no idea what he is and he certainly doesn’t express any kind of human gender identity. What I saw was a perfect opportunity to portray a character who has no gender, wouldn’t that have been interesting? And then what does that say about Elisa? Oh no, but in fiction even non-human characters have to fit into the gender binary, and since Elisa is a woman, and all women are heterosexual, he has to be – not only a male – but a cis male. I was honestly baffled by how far the creators of this movie reached to make the cis-maleness of the creature clear (i.e. the scene where Zelda asks Elisa if he has a “…”). What harm would there have been in just not discussing that, and letting viewers imagine how Elisa and the creature consummated the intimacy they felt for each other?

Once their relationship is shown to actually be a heterosexual relationship between a cis male and a cis female, it ‘s almost as if people don’t notice that one of them is not human. The people closest to Elisa don’t raise their eyebrows even for a second. So while it is clear that their relationship exists in perfect contrast to that of Strickland and his wife, or Giles’s advances on the Pie Guy, it still only reinforces our cultural heteronormativity despite the fact that one of them is not human.

WHAT’S YOUR EXCUSE?

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Collins, Dr. Seuss, and the Mockingjay

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, #3)Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So, I’ve finally finished the Hunger Games trilogy. It was like riding a roller coaster. Once you get in, you’re hooked until the end. You’re stomach flips over but the rush of excitement is worth it.

I was fully prepared to be disappointed by Mockingay. I was ready for all of my favorite characters to die, ready for Katniss to never make up her mind who she loves more, Gale or Peeta (I was actually hoping she would end up with Finnick). But the book had much more to give than a story. It has an important lesson to teach us, and although I was not impressed by the plot, I was satisfied by the message the book delivered.

Continuing the holocaust metaphors I pointed out in my review of Catching Fire, I was not at all surprised to find the authorities of District 13 stamping things on people’s forearms. The children gathered outside President Snow’s mansion made me think briefly of the Palestinian civilians the PA uses to guard terrorists. It’s hard to imagine that the things Collins talks about are anywhere close to reality, but they are. Frighteningly close.

I heard a theory once that what made World War 2 unique was not the number of casualties, but the advancement of military technology which happened in those years. The technology revolution was the mark of the twentieth century. People were killed in inconceivable ways. The first and only nuclear bombs were used to end the war. Along this line, the Hunger Games is punctuated with brilliant, terrible inventions.

The thing is, I don’t agree that the holocaust is unique. I think, and Suzanne Collins agrees with me, that if we were capable of doing it once, we are capable of doing it again.

“Are you preparing for another war, Plutarch?” I ask.
“Oh, not now. Now we’re in that sweet period where everyone agrees that our recent horrors should never be repeated,” he says.

“But collective thinking is short-lived. We’re fickle, stupid beings with poor memories and a great gift for self-destruction.

“Although who knows? Maybe this will be it, Katniss.”
“What?” I ask.
“The time it sticks. Maybe we are witnessing the evolution of the human race. Think about that.”

We need to start learning from out own mistakes. We need to wake up and start acting to change the future, instead of weeping over the horrors of the past. If we don’t, history will continue to repeat itself. In the words of Dr. Seuss in his book (and my all time favorite) The Lorax,

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

So, yeah.

Think about that.

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Book Review: The Time traveler’s Wife

The Time Traveller's Wife  The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have to admit: I didn’t cry when Dumbledore died. But I was moved to tears by The Time Traveler’s Wife.

This is not the kind of book which is impossible to put down. Instead, you get to read it at your leisure, enjoy it, and actually remember it when you’re done. The author succeeds in giving the reader the same experience as the characters. Clare moves through time linearly, to keep the reader grounded, while Henry jumps from time to time and allows the reader to experience the suddenness and confusion he does. The love story pulls the reader into the book so that even when you aren’t reading, Henry and Clare are present at the back of your mind, as a real life lover would be.

Audrey Niffenegger writes with a lot of words, but she uses them masterfully. Her metaphors and descriptions only contribute to bringing the book to life.

“I eat ten Oreos, slowly, gently prying each one apart, scraping the filling out with my front teeth, nibbling the chocolate halves to make them last.” (page 31)

And yet, it’s not just long breathtaking cookie eating scenes like this. In some places the writing is so concise you do a double take and ask, did that really just happen? For instance, I think this is the shortest sex scene I’ve ever encountered:

“[Henry] says, ‘Does that door lock?’ and I flip the lock and we’re late for lunch.” (page 165)

From the first page, the book is ringing with moral dilemmas and existential questions. The author asks her own questions through the characters, but also uses the questions to tell the story. The fact that her characters ask makes them even more human, especially because it makes the reader wonder if they will change their answers as the story progresses.

“But don’t you think it’s better to be extremely happy for a short while, even if you lose it, than to just be okay for your whole life?” (page 231)

Any book in which one of the characters is a cellist becomes an automatic favorite of mine. In this case, the cellist is Alicia, Clare’s younger sister. There aren’t many references to it, but the few were done well. “Alicia is seventeen and a senior in high school. She’s a cellist.” (page 16) It is as if being a cellist explains everything about her character, which is quite accurately how we cellists feel about ourselves. 🙂

It is rare to find a love story which begins in childhood and continues through entire lives, especially in books which are meant to make money. This love story is so detailed and so real, and still it is so gripping as Henry and Clare grow up and get married. Their relationship changes, and their lives change, but the love story is intriguing to the last moment. There is one moment where Clare describes them sitting on swings on a playground which made me think of how a love story can be thought of as a sequence of memories – the moments we choose to string together into a chain we call “romantic.”

“I try to put my heart into hers, for safekeeping, in case I lose it again.” (page 370)

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