Apparently, the message of inclusivity in "The Shape of Water" doesn't extend to the kink community. Fox Searchlight Pictures This post is swimming in sexy spoilers. A fish-sex movie won big at the Oscars, and the bright spotlight seems to have heightened discomfort around the erotic interspecies romance at the center of The Shape of Water.
From film critics to Twitter, people appear most conflicted over what is arguably the film's true climax: But this derision and revulsion misses the point entirely. Because, like Elisa, the mute maid working in a secret government facility played by Sally Hawkins, some left the theater sincerely wanting to fuck that fish-man monster.
And if you stomached the movie's overarching message, then that really shouldn't gross you out. A brief history of humans having sex and loving sea creatures in media The abundance of monster romances throughout history have tended to resonate most with marginalized people, including women, immigrants, LGBTQ people, people of color, and people with disabilities. From Greek mythology to Beauty and the Beast, Shape of Water joins a long, well-established history of erotic monster tales used to address otherness.
I thought 'Hubba hubba,'"he told the Los Angeles Times. And the third thing I thought was 'I hope they get together. What exactly is making people want to have sex with an Amazonian fish god?
Well, the answer is layered. To some extent, it's the universal appeal of the unknown. Sexualized aquatic creatures like mermaids further embody the dark, mysterious pull of the sea, because, "Humans can't dominate the ocean. The power we see during natural disasters reminds us just how powerless we are. But it also goes deeper than that. Irving, Beacon College English professor and pop culture expert. Yet, monster stories haven't always been about accepting otherness.
Chelsea Reynolds, an assistant professor of communications at California State University Fullerton who studies sexuality in media culture, explained "they can sometimes serve as allegories, but other times as expressions of our fantasies and phobias.
Sure it's a movie that luxuriates in the fantasy of erotic fish-man romance. But it also depicts people with fetishes as off-putting, if not downright evil. That's crystallized in the character of Colonel Strickland Michael Shannon , who fetishizes Elisa's muteness through non-consensual domination fantasies.
This anti-fetishist attitude has bled into the repulsed reactions to the fish-man sex. But according to media studies scholars and sexologists, a fetish for monstrous creatures — or teratophilia — is far from new, and a lot more widespread than you'd think.
Even "The Shape of Water" can't get over depicting fetishes as evil. The first listing of about two dozen sold out quickly, but the second of roughly the same amount — posted shortly after the movie's Oscar wins — sold out in 20 minutes flat.
You can find the creature in Shape of Water sexy, without being a full-on teratophile — though neither deserves stigmatization for being nontraditional expressions of human sexuality. Yet, oddly, that message doesn't appear to have extended to those who developed a sexual desire for the creature through their empathy.
Not even for its own director, who repeatedly insisted he designed the fish monster so people could fall in love with him.
When addressing the existence of the Shape of Water dildo, Guillermo del Toro lamented to The Wrap that other Oscar-nominated films like Dunkirk don't "have this problem," adding with a certain level of contempt that it's "some form of fan art It's pretty strange for the director and co-writer of a film trumpeting humanity for all — whether for a closeted gay man or an Amazonian fish monster — to draw the line at sexual fetishes and kinks. It's even stranger that a movie explicitly exploring female sexuality through Elisa's unabashed masturbation scenes still feels the need to sanitize it.
But sure enough, in an interview with Straits Times , del Toro said he actively tried to, "take the fetishistic or grandiose tone out of [the sex] by doing it in a way that feels everyday and homey. Decades ago, homosexuality was clinically treated as an unnatural perversion.
Overstreet, the sexologist, explained that distaste for teratophiles or fish-sex kinksters, even from the very director who awakened their aquatic thirst, expresses an adherence to sexual norms. Werewolves and vampires, for example, were often imbued with homosexual undertones, painting them as a threat spreading their dehumanizing disease.
Or, at the very least, it's odd to portray falling in love with a fish-man monster as beautiful, while also saying it's kind of gross to fantasize about having sex with that fish-man monster IRL. A brief history of humans having sex and loving sea creatures in media However, to its credit, The Shape of Water does challenge a differn modern social norm embedded in the typical monster romance narrative: Historically, monster-meets-girl stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, and Princess and the Frog, used to "provide moral warnings about male predation and fragile female sexuality," said Reynolds.
Folklore with sexualized monsters tended to educate children about their socially-acceptable gender roles, while also giving them strict sexual scripts to follow. Beauty and the Beast and Princess and the Frog, for example, show how, "an ugly and unruly man may be tamed with enough patience and care from a woman. Del Toro specifically sought to explore female sexuality through an inversion of the typical power dynamic. Elisa is the seducer, while the creature is depicted as vulnerable and reliant on her for survival.
Also unlike Beauty and the Beast and the Princess and the Frog, the monster is not forced to shed his grotesque exterior in order to conform to a more acceptable human form. Instead, he transforms Elisa's otherness — symbolized through the scars on her neck — into a power.
And, as a whole, leaning into both their animalistic qualities implies a complete surrender to the "deviant" sexual desires they represent. By the end, the fish-man god thanks Elisa by making her extraordinary like himself. But there are still nontraditional forms of sexuality we struggle to embrace. Del Toro's contradictory attraction and rejection of his own creation is apparent throughout the film, and falls short of truly finding the humanity in everyone.
So maybe you left the movie theater feeling horny and maybe you started to feel like the freakish monster — persecuted for your natural instincts and desires.
Because beneath every monstrous allegory is the story of a very human, marginalized experience. We still have a ways to go before there is total acceptance of sexuality's wide spectrum. But when we get there, we'll have to admit that the shape of water is fluid in every way.