Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What if?

What if dreams, or wild imagining, could play out in our daily lives? Then, what would we dream of? How would we live?

Films, like books, have the power to move us into wild realms that exist only in the mind. Films like Blade Runner; or those in the Marvel series - Black Panther, Spiderman, Iron Man etc - begin with a fantastic premise that supports the story which unfolds. We become witnesses for the moments of the film, disengaging - reluctantly or gladly - by the end. It is the disengagement that allows us to tolerate horror films; many of which seem to be in the real world but descend into events so unthinkable as to take us along unexpected paths, with unimagined outcomes.

Occasionally, a film comes along that engages us at the heart and the senses; and challenges us, what if?  Such a one is Guillermo del Toro's "the Shape of Water," so real, so magical, that we are at one and the same time, drawn to it and repelled. What if?

Magic(al) realism is the term that is now used to describe works of art (literature, painting, film) that are based on real events in the real world, but into which something marvellous, implausible, fantastic or magical enters. The genre is associated with the 1950s Latin American writers, Alejo Carpentier,  Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Isabel Allende and others. Ideas and influences of magical realism have extended further into literature, but increasingly have a strong presence in film. Think of Big Fish.

Magic realism stories begin in real settings. The story teller convinces you that it is safe; and leads you along to a "what if?" moment. Stephen King does it in Pet Semetary: you cross the threshold at that moment when the cat comes back.

This has been Guillermo del Toro's domain for some time. Pan's Labyrinth - like the rabbit hole   otherworld into which Alice tumbles - is an alternate realm that intersects with and begins to affect Ofelia in her loneliness; she enters the magical realm, saves her baby brother and inherits a kingdom. In the end, the two disparate realities come together for her redemption.

The Shape of Water opens on the lives of ordinary people: Elisa a mute with aspirations and appetites of any young woman; Giles, her graphic artist neighbour; and Zelda Delilah who keeps Elisa honest in the job cleaning floors at the military research facility. Elisa lives a solitary routine alleviated by singular moments of respite: musical rhythm; underwater in her bathtub; her shoes... What is the moment that she crosses the magic line? Is it the kinship she recognises in another creature who is also locked not in silence but in the ability to make the world listen and understand?

What if? What if we allowed the possibility of something different into our lives? What if... Would anyone recognise a god in our midst unless he would redeem our lives by his death; or unless he would strike us dead?

The story is simple enough: lonely female meets lonely male. A bond is formed in the most time-worn tradition; made exceptional by the extraordinary details of ordinary lives. She meets him surreptitiously: he in a prison; she in her own prison of non-communication. She feeds him - hard boiled eggs. He is tender to her; powerful beyond imagining, one wonders why he has not already made an escape. It's only a matter of time before they are impelled to be free together, and alone, to touch and explore the other.

Some people feel that Elisa's morning duties in the bathtub, attentive to her self, her needs, are gratuitous details. But they are not, and the bathtub scenes are essential to not just her discovery of self but to exploration of the other.  It is only her bathtub that allows her to sustain his life, until she knows that it is too small a pond for an Amazonian water god.

After the bloody battle that secures an escape, one can only imagine that he healed her; that they swam away to a life that started in a love story; but ended, as love stories do, in happily ever after!

Characteristics of magical realism include five primary traits (from
  1. An "irreducible" magic which cannot be explained by typical notions of natural law.
  2. A realist description that stresses normal, common, every-day phenomena, which is then revised or "refelt" by the marvelous. Extreme or amplified states of mind or setting are often used to accomplish this. (This distinguishes the genre from pure myth or fantasy.)
  3. It causes the reader to be drawn between the two views of reality.
  4. These two visions or realms nearly merge or intersect.
  5. Time is both history and the timeless; space is often challenged; identity is broken down at times.

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