The Shape of Water

The Shape of Water

With “The Shape of Water” I think director Guillermo del Toro has composed a timely and marvelously entertaining illustration of the struggle between paranoia and empathy. He has artfully told an allegorical tale that shares with his audience important and complicated stuff much more effectively than reasoned discourse could ever manage.

For example, I think that in general a person in the grips of paranoia sees her or himself as alone in their understanding of their own ongoing personal jeopardy. On the other hand a person unencumbered by paranoia and capable of empathy accepts their own uniqueness as just the way it is…the uniqueness of others is simply some sort of paradoxical commonality. We’re all the same – we’re all different.

To a paranoid person anyone else that appears on their radar in any sort of stressful situation is perceived as a menacing something else, taking on an over the top monstrous aspect. And interaction with such loathsome beings, especially unwanted interaction, triggers fear. For paranoid people, frightening others, especially obviously different others, are particularly fear inducing if they are acting like, or being treated like, people. Seeing “those people” pretending they are not loathsome beings…treated as if they were not loathsome beings…is experienced by paranoid people as monsters maneuvering and conspiring to destroy them.

To a paranoid person self-interest, and preventing monstrous lesser beings from having things, is essential to self-preservation. But strangely, self-centered, paranoid people can clot together on a grand-scale (another paradoxical situation), drawn to each other through mutual recognition of their shared unshakable certainty that “every man for himself” is the only sensible way to engage the world.

On the other hand, for people capable of empathy it is extremely challenging, almost unnatural, to rally behind any single idea or cause since their primary commonality is diversity…in thought, size, color… And their enthusiastic expression of the merits of diversity makes paranoid people bat-shit, murderously crazy. Del Toro would have us understand that when such crazies have the upper hand, empathy is dangerous and heroic.

I think “The Shape of Water” is a beautiful distillation and illumination of all the cranky ideas I’ve strung together above and lots more. If you haven’t seen it I hope you will check it out.

PS: For a sweet, low-budget, small-town version of essentially the same story check out the movie “Hunted” (not “The Hunted”) which includes a wonderfully natural and impressive performance by David James Elliot who played Harmon Rabb for 11 years on the television series “JAG.”

[This post was strenuously rewritten on 12/21/19. Apologies to any who may have struggled through the original version.]

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Winter Solstice 2013


Gold Silver Mercury

Before physics and chemistry there was alchemy. The alchemists asked questions that were beyond the resources available to them to provide satisfactory answers. Many of the gaps between what they wanted to know and what they could find out through experimentation were filled in with speculation and imaginings – usually added on top of the speculations and imaginings of those who came before them.

Substances, like people, generally behave in fairly predictable ways consistent with their personalities. Since the alchemists were intensely interested in substances, and studied them over long periods of time, they felt they knew them. And they saw a little of themselves in their glowing caldrons.

When the alchemists projected aspects of themselves on the substances they studied lots of internal stuff – psychological stuff – was revealed. The image above is composed of 12th Century alchemical symbols arranged to suggest the ongoing process of individual experience.

 

  represents the sun and gold and is a metaphor for consciousness.

 

  represents the moon and silver and is a metaphor for the unconscious.

represents mercury, a fluid state, and is a metaphor for a personality in transition. This symbol is composed of both the symbols for gold and silver, plus a cross that represents space and time divided into quadrants – crosshairs suggesting “you are here.”

Sometimes stuff flows from through  to  and sometimes it flows the other way.

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