The Impossible Love of Monsters: Quicksilver Reflections on Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

 

 

“Dip him in the river who loves water. “ —William Blake, “Proverbs of Hell”



The Gypsy Scholar watched the 75th Golden Globe Awards with great anticipation, hoping that The Shape of Water would win both Best Picture and Best Director. Although disappointed that the film didn’t get the former award (even though it had both a relevant psycho-spiritual and a socio-political message, which should resonate with the tenor of an awards ceremony replete with calling out social injustices [1] ), he nevertheless reveled in the fact the Guillermo del Toro won for Best Director. (The GS has been a great admirer since Pan’s Labyrinth.)

 

But I’m not reporting this to talk about del Toro’s Mexican brand of “magical realism” (maybe another time). No, I instead want to talk about the director’s marvelous acceptance speech and how it relates to the (alchemically) watery (psycho-spiritual) element in this magical-realism film. Its director said something of vital importance, and I want to try to tease out and elaborate what that’s about.

 

Beginning when del Toro was young, “monsters” were life-saving creatures for him, and his childhood faith in monsters has continued up to the present. In his latest film, The Shape of Water, del Toro has his heroine, Elisa, fall in love with one of these “monsters.” This theme of the erotic relationship between a human being and a non-human or supernatural creature can be found in mythology, old ballads, folktales, legends, and literature from the British Isles to Iceland, and from Eastern Europe to the Mediterranean. Sometimes the non-human lover is an angel, sometimes a faery king or queen or (Celtic) lenanshee, sometimes a mermaid or a (Celtic) selkie, or at other times a lamia or demon (the vampire belongs to this group). Elisa’s supernatural lover would fall under the category of the literary tradition of the “Demon Lover.” This kind of a love relationship is what the GS calls “Impossible Love.” [2]

 

“There is no cure for impossible love when it revolutionizes our lives. When it leads to the future as well as into the past, when it cannot be comprehended on a purely personal level, then it is not an illness, but an initiation. Initiation into depths, but also into longing, and this will not, should not, ever cease. This longing keeps us in proximity to our souls…. Even if an impossible love becomes possible, our longing will still be there. It will simply change form, reminding us that we are never quite all here and that part of us always belongs to an Other.” –Jan Bauer

 

For those who have not seen The Shape of Water, it is an evocative modern fairytale, a compelling, fanciful, and soulful love story set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. At a top-secret research facility, a lonely janitor, who is mute and trapped in a life of isolation, discovers a secret classified experiment and enters into a unique erotic relationship with an amphibious humanoid creature that is being held in captivity. As a result, her life is changed forever. (“Impossible love … revolutionizes our lives.”) Elisa signs to her friend Giles: “When he looks at me, the way he looks at me... He does not know, what I lack... Or - how - I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I - am, as I am. He's happy - to see me.” The human and monster recognize something in each other that everyone else doesn’t see. But any description of the film fails to convey neither its dramatic resonance nor the emotional pull of what reviewers call an “offbeat love story”—what the GS calls an “impossible love” story.

 

So here are the profound words visionary director Guillermo del Toro uttered in his Golden Globe acceptance speech about his relationship to his film monsters:

 

“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. For 25 years, I have handcrafted very strange little tales made of motion, color, light and shadow…and in three precise instances, these strange stories, these fables, have saved my life. Once with Devil’s Backbone, once with Pan’s Labyrinth and now with Shape of Water.”

 

Again, there’s something vitally important here that shouldn’t be overlooked. I believe it has to do with a rejected and despised other and a nascent alternative psycho-spiritual model of the human being taking shape today.

 

The film is called “The Shape of Water.” (Why this title for the film?) The driving force of the film is crystal clear—it’s water. The voiceover from the character Giles explains the film’s metaphor of water; that love is like water because it takes the shape of everything. Given that the film begins and ends underwater, I should properly begin with what I think the larger significance of del Toro’s words are by commenting on the symbolic meaning of water. [3] In doing so, I hope the deeper, symbolic meaning that can be distilled from del Toro’s statement will rise to the surface. 

 

This symbolic element of water in the film can be understood in the context of both the alchemical and depth-psychological frames of reference. In alchemy water associated with “spirit,” and sometimes it’s called “divine water.” It was also called the “eternal water” (aqua permanens). It was commonly known to alchemists as the prima materia, out of which everything came and the material principle of all bodies. The important sixteenth-century alchemical treatise, Rosarium philosophorum, categorically states that “Water is spirit.” The sixteenth-century alchemist Ruland calls water “the spiritual power, a spirit of heavenly nature.” For the tenth-century alchemist Zadith,  “the dragon is the divine water.” In another alchemical treatise, Komarios, water is described as an “elixir of life,” which awakens the dead sleeping in Hades to a new springtime. Water, as one of the four principle elements, features prominently in the alchemical process of dissolution in the bath, which is a necessary step in creating a new structure. Thus, water in alchemy has both destructive and regenerating qualities. Within the alchemist, the “Water of Dissolution” can take the form of dreams, voices, visions, and strange feelings that reveal a less ordered and less rational world existing simultaneously with our everyday life. In the alchemical quest for the “Philosopher’s Stone,” water is transformed into “liquid metal,” or “quicksilver.” This “spirit of quicksilver” (related to the moon, and therefore with the lunar-consciousness of dreams, reveries, and visions) is none other than the crowning god of the process, Mercurius (both compound and planet). This quicksilver is identical with “the water of the moon.” This refers to the “eternal water,” which is exactly what Mercurius is: the “spirit of quicksilver”. For C.G. Jung, who incorporated alchemical concepts into his depth-psychology, water is the commonest symbol for the “unconscious.” Water is “the valley spirit, the water dragon of Tao,” whose nature resembles water, and therefore “water means spirit that has become unconscious.” In Jung’s psychological “process of individuation,” water represents a further breaking down of the artificial structures of the psyche by total immersion in the unconscious, the rejected part of our consciousness, which necessarily leads to a new psychological integration. For Dr. James Hillman, working off Jung, “the valleys or vales are the watery places of the psyche,” as opposed to the dryness of spirit, where the all-important, archetypal, anima figures of creativity reside, hence the vales are creative haunts—“the vale[s] of Soul-making.”)

 

I submit that these alchemical and psychological notions of water can help in reflecting on not only the title of the film but also key scenes in it, such as the opening and closing scenes, which both show suspension underwater; the erotic union of monster and lady taking place down in the watery depths—sinking “a thousand kisses deep.”

 

So, considering water and the rejected part of our consciousness, I want to talk about what’s been cast out (alienated) in the Western collective psyche and the potential healing of the ontological split between self and other, human and non-human. In other words, the film requires us to think deeply about what we conceive of as the Other; about communication with the Other. [4]

 

In order to locate the crux of our psychological alienation, I would supplement Guillermo del Toro’s words here with another artist who also sneaks a profound philosophical message across through fantasy and science fiction, the writer Ursula K. Le Guin. Where del Toro uses the term “monsters,” Le Guin talks about “dragons:”

 

“Those who refuse to listen to dragons are probably doomed to spend their lives acting out the nightmares of politicians. We like to think we live in daylight, but half the world is always dark; and fantasy, like poetry, speaks the language of the night."

 

(“… the nightmares of politicians.” Ah, another message for our time!)

 

Yes, “half the world is always dark” (both literally and metaphorically). Not to complicate matters too much here, but you should know that this symbolic realm of fantasy and poetry—the realm of the Imagination—was explored and mapped by the Romantic poets and writers in the nineteenth century. They termed it as the (archetypal) Nightworld,” which was opposed to the Dayworld.” (And they elaborated a theory of different kinds of consciousness associated with each; an ego/sun-consciousness with the latter and a cosmic/lunar consciousness with the former.) To these Romantics, Western man had lost something essential in his striving for a totally rational worldview. As a consequence, they believed, of this (scientific) worldview, the world had become “disenchanted” and the integration of the lunar consciousness (what the depth-psychologists would later call the “Unconscious,” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”?) in the human psyche would bring about the “re-enchantment of the world.”

 

Back to “monsters.” Part of this modern “disenchantment” was that in the name of the endless march of progress something primordial in the human psyche had been rejected and exiled. It became the natural enemy of mankind (at least Western mankind anyway). And this process of self-alienation actually started early. It can be detected in the 10th-century Anglo-Saxon poem in Old English, Beowulf. Here the warrior-hero Beowulf defeats a monster known as Grendel and later defeats a dragon. This dragon-slaying heroism is continued in the Christian era by such figures as St. Michael. (And we shouldn’t forget that the Apocalypse starts in Book of Revelation 13 with “The dragon … a beast coming out of the sea.” Read: “coming back out of the repressed Collective Unconscious.”) On this subject, C.G. Jung concludes: “The balance of the primordial world is upset.” [5]  (The film’s aquatic monster is indeed primordial, the denizen of an Amazon river.)

 

But, if I read the import of both the cinematic fantasist’s and the novelistic fantasist’s words correctly, this archetypal “monster/dragon” has gotten a bad wrap in Western literature, both biblical and secular. Yet, there is another way of looking at this primordial enemy. To some “Goddess-feminists,” who critique the “patriarchy,” the dragon or serpent is actually none other than a symbol of the Great Mother, and they tell us that what has been historically repressed are her watery and chthonic Earth-dragon energies. (And though the monster/dragon/serpent was slain long, long ago, it looks like Freud was right about “the return of the repressed.”) [6]

 

Guillermo del Toro shows us the official attitude toward this despised and rejected primordial creature, specifically through his captor and tormentor Strickland and, more generally, through both the American and Russian Cold War governments. In doing so, the filmmaker implicitly offers his audience a scathing critique of both the prevailing scientific and religious worldviews.

 

The critique of the scientific method of dissection comes when Strickland (supported by both the American and Russian scientific establishments) can only advocate: “We need to take it apart, learn how it works.” (Only one scientist, Hoffstetler, objects. He sees the monster as “intricate” and “beautiful” and doesn’t want it destroyed. He tells his fellow scientists that he believes “the creature can communicate and is intelligent.” Cf. recent sci-fi films where the creature from outer space is recognized as “intelligent” and thus something to communicate with.) American and Russian officials are interested in the monster because of its ability to communicate without words. That’s also how it connects with the film’s mute heroine, Elisa. The creature learns her sign language. Here, it’s significant, given what is known about director del Toro’s attention to the film’s score, that the communication between human and beast lovers is often through music. [7] The aquatic creature responds to the music Elisa smuggles in to play for him. Del Toro says he uses Elisa and the creature’s connection as a window to how people should communicate with one another. [8]

 

The critique of the religious prejudice comes when Strickland tells the two cleaning ladies, Elisa and Zelda: “You may think, ‘That thing looks human.’ Stands on two legs, right? But—we're created in the Lord's image. You don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you? The natives in the Amazon worshipped it. Like a god. The thing we keep in there is an affront.” (An “affront”—keep in mind here what I’ve previously said above about the Christian era and what kind of archetypal creature “is not created in the Lord’s image.”) In other words, we can see the aquatic monster of del Toro’s film as a modern archetype of the split-off “Other.” Yet, this “Other” also includes the social outcasts of Cold War America’s world. [9]

 

This information, then, should put us in a better position to grok the words of the Best Director for 2018. Indeed, I would argue that visionary director Guillermo del Toro is in reality a depth-psychologist as filmmaker. I say this because he has hit upon something that not only applies to individual psychic health (wholeness) but also that of the collective. [10]

 

It’s about overcoming the age-old repression of what “monsters” or “dragons” represent in us—these deformed, raging, and terrifying creatures. (And both del Toro and Le Guin know of the repercussions of such repression. In another place the latter rephrases her statement: “People who deny the existence of dragons are often eaten by dragons. From within.” Poet William Blake long ago, before Freud, recognized this psychological fact and expressed it most dramatically: “Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.” (“The Proverbs of Hell”) Why deny these “monsters” when it’s obvious that they have always fascinated us in literature and film?) So let’s hear Guillermo del Toro’s words again:

 

 “… because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection, and they allow and embody the possibility of failing.”

 

Now were getting to the (monstrous) heart of the matter. In terms of the more psycho-spiritual dimension of my exposition of del Toro’s film, this statement goes against our prevailing system of values—both religious and secular—which place the highest (market) value on success and perfection, with its concomitant fear of failure (and here the perfectionism of New-Age religion is the best example). Because of this modern expression of “Proverbs of Hell,” I see Guillermo del Toro as not only depth-psychologist as filmmaker but also a spiritual teacher as filmmaker as well.

 

I mean, I don’t know if del Toro’s audience has noticed, but there’s a very different kind of spiritual way (“method”) afoot in the world today, one which re-values (in a new kind of Nietzscheantransvaluation of all values”) those things that are traditionally considered by orthodox religions (both old- and new-age) to be hindrances and vices to one’s spiritual path; such as, the body, desire, uncertainty, imperfection, failure, depression, and vulnerability (“woundedness”). This is what I formerly meant by a nascent alternative psycho-spiritual model of the human being taking shape—the shape of (alchemical) water/spirit—today.

 

Compare the words of a depth-psychologist and a novelist: “Where we stumble and fall is where we find pure gold.” (C. G. Jung). “The glorious failure I’ve always preferred to the modest success.” (Salman Rushdie). Then there are the titles of talks by a popular Tibetan Buddhist teacher: “Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better,” “When Pain is the Doorway,” “Comfortable With Uncertainty,” and “Living with Vulnerability.” (Finally, a spiritual teacher from the Buddhist tradition has caught on to what some nineteenth- and twentieth-century Romantic poets knew!)

 

What we have here, then, are the same unorthodox sentiments expressed from creative artists, psychologists, and spiritual teachers. But I must—as the Gypsy Scholar whose sole claim to fame is a music program (with its midnight “language of the night”)—add a musician to the mix here. So, speaking about what del Toro identifies as “patron saints,” the musical patron saint of failure and despair, of imperfection and brokenness, is of course the “Beautiful Loser” himself, Leonard Cohen. You can hear this expressed in many of his songs, which paradoxically achieve a kind of dark transcendence (or “profane illumination” of a “broken Hallelujah”) not in spite of these so-called “negative” traits but precisely through these. This, I submit, is the mad truth of what I have referred to as a nascent alternative psycho-spiritual model of the human being taking shape today. (And, speaking of what del Toro refers to as “our blissful imperfection,” this a phrase that practically echoes Cohen’s musical ethos.) Yet, if you don’t quite get it through the songs, you can find L.C. plainly stating this proverbs-of-hell kind of paradox in his interviews:

 

“Sometimes when you no longer see yourself as the hero of your own drama—you know, expecting victory after victory—and you understand deeply that this is not paradise, that somehow, especially the privileged ones that we are, we somehow embrace the notion that this vale of tears is perfectible; that you're going to get it all straight. I found that things became a lot easier when I no longer expected to win. I tried to put this into that song called, 'A Thousand Kisses Deep’—you know, when you understand you abandon your masterpiece and you sink into the real masterpiece.”

 

“Everybody has experienced the defeat of their lives. Nobody has a life that worked out the way they wanted it to. We all begin as the hero of our own dramas in centre stage and inevitably life moves us out of centre stage, defeats the hero, overturns the plot and the strategy and we’re left on the sidelines wondering why we no longer have a part — or want a part — in the whole damn thing. Everybody’s experienced this, and when it’s presented to us sweetly, the feeling moves from heart to heart and we feel less isolated and we feel part of the great human chain which is really involved with the recognition of defeat.”

 

However, I should add here the lyrics to L.C.’s song “Coming Home,” because of what he had to say about them in an interview (and because a thing called “A Manuel For Living with Defeat: Lessons from Leonard Cohen” was web-published):

 

 “He wants to write a love song

An anthem of forgiving

A manual for living with defeat”

 

L.C. comments on these lyrics in a Q Magazine interview:

 

“We are all living defeat and with failure and with disappointment and with bewilderment. We are all living with these dark forces that modify our lives. I think the ‘Manual For Defeat’ is to first of all acknowledge that everyone suffers, that everyone is engaged in a mighty struggle for self-respect, for meaning, for significance. I think the first step would be to recognise that your struggle is the same as everyone else’s struggle, and that your suffering is the same as everyone else’s suffering...” [11]

 

As the GS summed it up in a musical essay for L.C.’s 2009 birthday, it’s paradoxically through the experience of failure that the “Black Romantic” is precipitated on a journey into the darkest depths self (and to its “monsters”), one which results in the recreation of existence. Therefore, because it is L.C.’s thesis that the experience of failure is indispensable for the creation of art, his novel, Beautiful Losers, becomes a case study of the fleur du mal “beauty” of such failures. [12]  Thus, the GS believes that we can also connect L.C.’s lessons about the experience of failure in life to what del Toro says about the “possibility of failing.” 

 

Yes, for filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, our “blissful imperfection” opens up the “possibility of failing”—the best guide on our (“way-down-and-out”) path, not to transcendence but to wholeness. So the GS would ask his readers to consider all these other words on the topic and compare them to those from the acceptance speech for winning Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards. Then, you’ll grok what his cinematic “monsters” represent—and perhaps what it means to fall in (impossible) love with them, in order to go from being incomplete to being complete (whole). [13] Indeed, as Jan Bauer has told us, “we are never quite all here and that part of us always belongs to an Other.”

 

“Unable to perceive the shape of you,

I find you all around me.

Your presence fills my eyes with your love,

It humbles my heart,

For you are everywhere.” [14]

 

In conclusion, the GS believes that visionary filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, with his puer temperament [15] (i.e., “since childhood”), his mythological imagination, and his magical realism, is out to heal and re-enchant the world—one magical movie at a time! [16]

 

 

 



[1] This “impossible love” story of human and beast couldn’t be more timely. Whereas it was not overtly a film dealing with socio-political issues, like some other films nominated for awards, it nevertheless engages “women’s issues” of the day in the situation of low-wage women janitors in a patriarchal institution. (Keep in mind that a woman, Vanessa Taylor, co-wrote the screenplay.) It celebrates “diversity” with a disabled woman, a woman of color, and a gay man teaming up to thwart the military-industrial power structure and its evil schemes. It depicts a downtrodden cleaning woman who defies the perception that she’s powerless against repressive male authority. It rebukes harsh political and scientific agendas in the name of national security. But, most of all, it stands up for the inalienable right of an individual to fall in love with whomsoever they chose—be it man, woman, transgender, or nonhuman!

 

Composer Alexandre Desplat brings out the social issues embedded in the film: “In this movie, the good and the bad are not who we think. In Michael Shannon’s character’s world, the bad are the cleaning ladies, the gays, people who are alien to his world. The story will prove that he’s the devil, he’s the alien, he’s the non-human.” (Matt Grobar, “‘The Shape Of Water’ Composer Alexandre Desplat On The Sounds Of Love & Water,” Deadline Hollywood, 12/30/17.) Of course, Giles, the film’s narrator, in introducing the “tale of love and loss and the monster, who tried to destroy it all,” tells us who the real “monsters” of the film are: all the men like Strickland (Shannon), the aquatic creature’s captor and tormentor.

 

[2] For a comprehensive take on this unique erotic phenomenon (complete with alluring images), see the GS’s webpage, “Impossible Love” (subpage of webpage #10, “The Troubadours & The Beloved”) on the Tower of Song website. See the section “Impossible Love & the Supernatural Lover: Demon Lover, Faery Lover, or Angel Lover,” where films on this folkloric and literary archetype are catalogued. The Shape of Water is also catalogued there.

 

The theme of the “Demon Lover” was popular in Romantic and Victorian poems and gothic novels. The Romantic poets, Coleridge and Keats, enjoyed contouring “Demon Lovers” in their poetry. Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan” (1816), contains the following lines describing the "deep romantic chasm” in Xanadu: “A savage place, as holy and enchanted / as e’er beneath the waning moon was haunted / by woman wailing for her demon lover.” His gothic ballad of the supernatural, “Christabel,” tells of the mysterious Geraldine who is the serpent in disguise, a female “demon lover,” a lamia. Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a femme fatale with “wild eyes,” a woman who brings death to many, a demon lover. Keats’ “Lamia” is a serpent who is transformed into a beautiful woman by the god Hermes. The succeeding Victorian writers continued the Romantic stories of “demon lovers.” The prime example of such is Emily Bronte’s 1847 gothic novel Wuthering Heights. Here, the most passionate of romantic anti-heroes, Heathcliff, is described by the narrator as maybe a “ghoul or a vampire.” As the gothic story progressed in British literature, the “demon lover,” who could be likened to a vampire, becomes an actual vampire.  In the 1992 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic 1897 vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the character of Dracula (Gary Oldman) is a dark, lonely soul determined to reunite with his lost love, Mina (Winona Ryder). To the GS’s Romantic way of seeing things, this film adaption is essentially a love story—an “impossible love” story—disguised as “horror” story. After all, Victorian writer Bram Stoker wrote it in the style (genre) of the Romantic-Gothic novel, which follows the tradition of Romantic dark love stories.

 

http://www.revradiotowerofsong.org/10troubadoursbeloved/impossiblelove.html

 

[3] Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat explains of the film’s central idea of water: “Water takes the shape of everything. It goes through the air, it’s invisible, it’s transparent, but it still has a lot of power. It’s a force that you can’t stop, so all these words, they make sense, and you try to capture that in music and sound.” (Matt Grobar, “‘The Shape Of Water’ Composer Alexandre Desplat On The Sounds Of Love & Water,” Deadline Hollywood, 12/30/17.) In the interview, the following is said of Desplat, who spent a lot of time immersed in the warm waters of his Caribbean home: “So immersed was Desplat in his pursuit of water’s sonic representation that ideas manifested within him without conscious thought, resulting in an opening, arpeggiated melody that rolls forward in waves. Buoyant and oozing with affection, Desplat’s score speaks powerfully to the metaphor at the crux of del Toro’s film.” Desplat himself reflects on the water metaphor of the film: “The way love and water play in the film gives you that sensation, because love also has this warm feeling. When you fall in love, when you see the person you love, there’s something warm that [emerges] inside you. Also, when you miss somebody you love, there’s a longing—there’s a little pain that mixes with that warmth, so it’s all these sensations that come from my experience that I tried to transpose to music…. We were talking about water… I must admit—it was completely unconscious, but the melody I wrote for the opening scene is actually made of waves. I did not do that on purpose, but by being completely immersed in this love and these water elements, I wrote a melody that plays arpeggios like waves.”

 

[4] Guillermo Del Toro confirms this. A few days after writing this—what insight I had into the film about the “Other” (both the social and psychic Other)—, I came across an NPR interview with del Toro about the film. To my pleasant surprise del Toro said flat out what his film is about: “The movie is about connecting with 'the other’.” (“Guillermo Del Toro Says 'Shape Of Water' Is An Antidote For Today's Cynicism,” NPR, 12/1/17.)

 

[5] This eternal warfare between Christ and the Dragon, as depicted in the New Testament, has had consequences that caused depth-psychologist C.G. Jung to observe that  “As a result, a tension of the opposites [Light vs. Dark] such as never occurred before in the whole history of Christianity beginning with the Creation arose between Christ and Antichrist, as Satan or the fallen angel.” And alluding to “the dragon chained for a thousand years (Rev. 20:2),” Jung adds his psychological estimation of such a split in these cosmic opposites: “It looks as if the superabundance of light on one side had produced an all the blacker darkness on the other…. The balance of the primordial world is upset.”  (C.G. Jung, Alchemical Studies, 1967) This is what I’m arguing here concerning the film; i.e., how it’s relevant to the psycho-spiritual alienation of the archetypal “Other” and to rectifying this unbalancing of the primordial world.

 

I should add here that some criticize The Shape of Water as being too morally “black and white,” meaning that the characters are either totally one or the other. Even if it were the case that you could hold a “modern fairytale” (which genre is about “black vs. white”) in the mode of magical-realism to the same psychological and moral standards as a realistic drama, in order to have this charge be valid you have to discount the fact that the main characters are placed in a dilemma where there is moral ambiguity (take the conflicted character of Dr. Hoffstetler for the best example).  Actually, this charge of all good or all bad is ironic, since I have suggested that the film seeks to reconcile this cosmic split; what Jung recognized as the excess of light causing a backlash of an excess of darkness, and as a result “The balance of the primordial world is upset”—the same “primordial world” that the (healing) monster-god was torn from.      

   

[6] Continuing this re-valuing of the archetype of the dragon-monster, it should be noted that in alchemy, according to Jung, the dragon not only represents the “visionary experience of the alchemist as he works in his laboratory and ‘theorizes’” but also represents the unifying figure of Mercurius: “The dragon in itself is a monstrum—a symbol combining of the chthonic of the serpent and the aerial principle of the bird. It is, as Ruland says, a variant of Mercurius. But Mercurius is the divine winged Hermes manifest in matter, the god of revelation, lord of thought and sovereign psychopomp.” Jung goes on to point out that Mercurius is thus the “liquid metal, which is called “living silver” or “quicksilver,” and is Mercurius as “the world-creating spirit concealed or imprisoned in matter.” Jung concludes that Mercurius is the dragon: “the dragon is probably the oldest pictorial symbol in alchemy of which we have documentary evidence.” (C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, 1953) Thinking about this alchemical, hidden relationship between gods and monsters, I can’t help but wonder—given that the aquatic monster in the film turns out to be a “god”—if he is a quicksilver Mercurius (dragon/monster) figure, “the water dragon of Tao.”     

 

[7] Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat, who did the score for the film, has stressed the role of its music: “Actually, I was thinking that he had directed a musical, but I still had the music to write.” (For a richly detailed account of what went into the composing of the film’s score, see Matt Grobar, “‘The Shape Of Water’ Composer Alexandre Desplat On The Sounds Of Love & Water,” Deadline Hollywood, 12/30/17.)

 

[8] "The movie is about connecting with 'the other,' " he says. "You know, the idea of empathy, the idea of how we do need each other to survive. And that's why the original title of the screenplay when I wrote it was A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times, because I think that this is a movie that is incredibly pertinent and almost like an antidote to a lot of the cynicism and disconnect that we experience day to day." (“Guillermo Del Toro Says 'Shape Of Water' Is An Antidote For Today's Cynicism,” NPR, 12/1/17.)

 

[9] In an interview, the film’s composer, Alexandre Desplat, identifies what I’m referring to as the “Other” as “the bad are the cleaning ladies, the gays, people who are alien to his [Strickland’s] world.” This is the “his world” (patriarchal world) of Cold War America. (Matt Grobar, “‘The Shape Of Water’ Composer Alexandre Desplat On The Sounds Of Love & Water,” Deadline Hollywood, 12/30/17.)

 

[10] Considering the issue of a psychic healing, both on an individual and collective level, we should not lose sight of the fact that this captive government “Asset,” this aquatic monster, turns out to be a “god.” (Strickland: “The natives in the Amazon worshipped it” and “Fuck. You ARE a god.”) Once more, this monster-god has healing powers. We witness the final underwater scene where he kisses Elisa, using its healing powers to revive her and give her gills where there were once scars on her neck. Now, the narrator tells us, they can finally be together—be one.

 

[11] Cohen's description of a “Manual For Living With Defeat” is one part of Q Magazine's piece on The London Preview Of Popular Problems (Q Magazine: September 17, 2014)

 

Given that I have identified filmmaker Guillermo del Toro’s reflections (“blissful imperfection” and “possibility of failure”) as that of a psycho-spiritual teacher and then added Leonard Cohen’s psycho-spiritual reflections, including “Manual For Living With Defeat: Lessons from Leonard Cohen,” I must note here my surprise in since discovering that The Pacifica Graduate Institute (a Ph.D. program in Depth Clinical Psychology that the GS had once applied to) had offered, back in June of 2017, a special event with a Jungian Analyst entitled: “A Manual for Living with Defeat: The Songs of Leonard Cohen.” It was described in the following way: “Many patients seek psychotherapeutic treatment while suffering a defeat in their lives. If the patient is able to go through the psychological journey from shock and anger, through fear, confusion, into grief, despair and finally acceptance of the death of their previous reality, then an altered personality may be born out of this darkness with greater wisdom, humility and compassion for the other suffering human beings in this world.  Leonard Cohen’s most important songs provide a highly condensed psychological map of this journey of transformation.”

 

Yes, quite gleefully surprised! Those who have listened to the GS’s radio programs will attest to the fact that “born out of this darkness” and “Leonard Cohen’s most important songs provide a highly condensed psychological map of this journey of transformation” sound just like the message of musical essays (as far back as 2009), such as “Leonard Cohen, Black Romanticism, & Soul-making: What Boogie Street Is For.”

 

[12] I would remind that LC.’s song mentioned above, “A Thousand Kisses Deep,” contains the lyric: “your invincible defeat.” (But thinking of the title, I can’t help but hear this song playing as we watch Elisa and her “Demon Lover” embrace and sink down into the water’s depths!). Compare another such lyric of loss in another L.C. song: “Everybody Knows that the war is over /everybody knows that the good guys lost.”

 

[13] Del Toro sees the beauty of the aquatic monster. He tells NPR's Rachel Martin, “The beautiful thing about this creature is [it's] sort of the Michelangelo's David of those creatures. He's absolutely gorgeous in every proportion, in every sculptural detail.” (“Guillermo Del Toro, On Monsters And Meaning,” NPR, 7/12/13.) It wouldn’t be too much to say that del Toro is in love with monsters. His fascination with monsters started in films. His favorite film monsters are Frankenstein's monster, the Alien, Gill-man, Godzilla, and the Thing. Frankenstein in particular has a special meaning for him, in both film and literature, as he claims he has a “Frankenstein fetish to a degree that is unhealthy," and that it's "the most important book of my life, so you know if I get to it, whenever I get to it, it will be the right way." (Keep in mind, considering del Toro’s “special meaning,” that Frankenstein of the movies was born out of literature; of Mary Shelley’s 1818 gothic novel entitled Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, a novel which deals with profound themes that are superficially touched upon or completely missing in the Hollywood films.)

 

[14] Though del Toro doesn’t remember exactly where this verse came from, he remembers reading something like this in a book of Islamic poetry, found in a bookstore he’d frequent before going on set to film. It’s most likely something original for the film, but given that Del Toro was reading a book on Islamic poetry, it sounds like something inspired from Rumi. From whomever the inspiration came, we should note here that the first line of the verse, “Unable to perceive the shape of you,” seems to contradict the title of the film, which is odd: water has in itself no particular “shape.” So, it’s formless and thus “everywhere” (like the spirit/water I have elucidated above). However, this seeming contradiction may be a paradox for del Toro.  It certainly sounds that way—paradoxical—in a L.C. song: “I greet you now on the other side of sorrow and despair / with a love so vast and shattered / it will meet you everywhere.”  (My emphasis.)

 

[15] Puer, more properly puer aeternus, is Latin for “eternal boy.” In mythology, he is a child-god who is forever young. In the depth-psychology of C.G. Jung, the puer of eternal youth is an archetype of both positive and negative import.

 

[16] Here are some questions that my watery reflections on The Shape of Water should provoke. If aquatic the creature is intelligent and can communicate, what would he tell us? If he can heal, what do we need healing from? What is the hidden relationship between gods and monsters? What does it mean, if water represents the Unconscious, that the film begins and ends suspended in water? And finally: What is swimming around now in the collective unconscious of postmodern man that Guillermo del Toro, a visionary artist, has tapped into? (Keep in mind here that the artist has been seen as a kind of prophet, because he or she is sensitive to the underground currents of the Unconscious and makes a journey for their fellow men into the depths in order to bring its wisdom back to the world.)