Two movies illuminating the silver screen with tales about monsters have received Golden Globe nominations this week: “The Shape of Water” and “Darkest Hour.”
“Darkest Hour” begins on May 9, 1940. Grainy black and white film images reveal neat rows of Nazi soldiers, guns and tanks before we see Hitler studying a map of Europe. Hitler had risen to power, being appointed Chancellor in 1933. By the spring of 1940, he had invaded Czechoslovakia, Poland, Denmark and Norway. The film’s start date is crucial because Germany invades Belgium and the Netherlands on May 10, 1940.
Great Britain had declared war on Germany on Sept. 3, 1939, following the blitzkrieg invasion of Poland, but with the fall of other European countries, Great Britain and France were now facing the threat of being overrun by the Nazis.
Into the fray comes Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman, unrecognizable under makeup), an old man of 65 who drinks too much starting early in the day and requires a late afternoon nap. He’s a shouting, rude bully to his new secretary, Elizabeth Layton (Lily James), but meek before his still beautiful wife Clementine (Kristin Scott Thomas).
A day after this encounter, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is ousted from power and Churchill takes over at a key moment for the fate of humanity.
Yet France falls in June of that year and the British army is decimated and trapped at Dunkirk. The movie works toward both the retreat at Dunkirk and the speech that Churchill gives to ignite patriotism in his fellow statesmen. The speech was widely reported but heard by few because recording and broadcast equipment were prohibited in the House of Commons in 1940.
“Darkest Hour” takes its name from a phrase Churchill coined to describe the period between the fall of France and the German invasion of Russia, a time before the Soviet Union and the United States would become Allies, a time when the threat of invasion was real. The movie reveals the possible political machinations and posturing between those who saw the threatening monster at the gates and those who thought Hitler could be reasoned with.
Oldman has been nominated for Best Actor in a Drama for the 2018 Golden Globes for his portrayal of a flawed man who was the right man for the moment, a man who lied to the people of Great Britain to give them hope during dark times.
Sometimes, we don’t know the monster when we see it. That was the case during World War II. Sometimes, we look back at history and forget the falsehood of a fairy tale past. Guillermo del Toro sets his adult fairy tale “The Shape of Water” in the era of JFK’s Camelot, in a secret government facility based in Baltimore. The film tells the story of an unlikely romance between an orphaned mute American woman and a foreigner from the far away waters of the Amazon.
The narrator (Richard Jenkins) speaks slowly and sadly at the beginning of the movie as a watery world is revealed through a flooded corridor, leading to a submerged room where furniture floats and a woman sleeps. “If I told you about her, the princess without voice, what would I say?”
He continues to warn about a monster. Everything settles back down and the water disappears because it seems this sequence was a dream. The woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), wakes up, makes both breakfast and lunch before she goes to her neighbor’s apartment to leave him food. The neighbor, Giles — the narrator (Jenkins) — is a commercial artist and shares a love for old Hollywood musicals with Elisa.
Giles and Elisa live above an old movie house and their only way down is out a fire escape and down into the street. Elisa begins her day at night, taking a bus to a secret scientific facility. Running late, her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) gives her cuts in the timecard line. The facility acquires a new “asset” (Doug Jones), transported in a large water-filled capsule. Elisa sees only the large, clawed webbed hand, but she will eventually befriend the amphibious humanoid.
The creature is being studied by scientists, including Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), but the asset is under the management of the cruel Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Hoffstetler works against Strickland because he is a Russian spy, the bogeyman of the Cold War.
Del Toro called the original 1954 “Creature from the Black Lagoon” a home invasion movie. “The Shape of Water” began there, when, as a young child, he saw the gill-man and the object of his desire during an aquatic sequence and was sure the movie was a romance between the girl and the gill-man.
The movie takes its name from a quote about love: “Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me.” Love, like water, takes various forms and this love story reminds us that the 1950s and early 1960s weren’t Camelot for women and minorities and questions the xenophobia that seemed to inspire many older science fiction movies.
“The Shape of Water” was nominated for seven Golden Globe awards, including Best Motion Picture, Drama. It has won the AFI Award for Movie of the Year.