“The Shape of Water” – the latest from visionary director Guillermo del Toro – features a monster who’s good and humans who’re the bad guys. This week, we talk about the history of sympathetic monsters – everyone from Frankenstein to the Creature from the Black Lagoon – with SMU film professor Rick Worland.
On similar movie monsters
The first thing that comes to mind for me is the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” movies from the 1950s … The creature was one of the last of the iconic Universal Studios monsters. The first one was made in 1955, and it was so successful that they made two sequels. In fact, what happens in the last sequel, which is called “The Creature Walks Among Us,” is that scientists take the creature and subject him to evolutionary experiments — remove his gills, make him an air-breathing creature — and he looks very much like a victim of science at this point.
On sympathetic monsters
Obviously, the monster is very sympathetic because he is, by turns, violent and dangerous but also this brute who’s yearning to be loved and understood in some way. Kong is, I think, in some ways an influence on the original Creature from the Black Lagoon because it’s the same basic premise. We follow this scientific expedition into an unknown jungle or tropical place and find this lost creature. It’s not quite as central to the creature, but there is a love interest in “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”
On the overt political message
I think the film is very strongly meant to be a kind of political allegory for our times, even though it’s a fantasy version of the early 1960s. It’s not coincidental that the most sympathetic characters in the film — and the most sympathetic to the fish man — are a disabled woman, African Americans, a gay man, and this kind of coalition of people who are marginalized, victimized, insulted, attacked in different ways in the film. It’s very clear that we’re meant to sympathize with those characters and not the sort of dangerous straight, white men.
On humans as antagonists
Usually what happens in these kinds of stories is either people are afraid of the monster and immediately want to kill it or they want to exploit it in some way. We have versions of that in this movie.
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