Living in an era full of Hollywood cookie-cutter blockbusters and safe-bet sequels, I think it’s about time we take a moment to give credit to a man who refuses to be anything but daringly, brilliantly original: current Oscar-nominated director Guillermo del Toro.
Take del Toro's most recent movie, The Shape of Water. At its core, this movie is about a mute woman who works as a janitor at a top secret government lab and falls in love with an aquatic creature brought in for experimentation during the peak of the Cold War. The movie also works as a tribute to the golden age of epic romance cinema, going as far as including a musical dance number with the woman and the creature. Yep, you read that right.
So how, you ask, does a movie as outlandish as this not only get produced by any sane studio, but end up the current front-runner for Best Picture? The answer, of course, comes from the magic man behind the idea and the camera.
You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more in love with movies than del Toro. His Twitter is filled with spontaneous bits of wisdom in storytelling balanced out with rants about Baby Driver. His home is a tribute to classic horror movies and monsters of yore, and many of the trinkets he’s collected can be found at a currently sold-out LACMA exhibition. Even as a child, del Toro was obsessed with the gothic and the monstrous – to the point where his strictly-Catholic grandmother tried to perform an exorcism on him. Twice. While del Toro’s filmography ranges from the sci-fi flick of Pacific Rim to the Spanish fable of Pan’s Labyrinth, all of del Toro's creations have one thing in common: monsters.
13 Tweets about monster creation. 1: When an artist has an imbalance between beauty and tragedy, or rage, in his/her sense of self-— Guillermo del Toro (@RealGDT) April 16, 2017
But what is a monster? According to the ever-faithful Oxford English Dictionary, a monster is either a. “a large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature” or b. “an inhumanly cruel or wicked person.” Del Toro would definitely question at least one of those definitions. In each of his movies there has been a large imaginary creature, but the only monsters present seem more fitted to the second definition. The villains of del Toro’s movies tend to be a dark twist on the “traditional” horror hero – the overly-masculine, often misogynistic jock type in a position of power. Meanwhile, the “monsters” of his movies are usually portrayed as misunderstood and lonely, outsiders in a society that is frightened by their otherworldly exterior. Del Toro has called monsters “patron saints of our imperfections,” giving them human flaws and emotions we can empathize with in a way we can’t with the human characters.
Del Toro has also refused to fully give into the trend of creating CGI characters. Instead, he relies on old-fashioned prosthetics and intricate design to create beautifully gothic creatures. His movies have a kind of tactile “realness” that movies using green screens and tennis ball eyes just can’t match. Every shot is lush with detail that transports you to another world. You can feel how much del Toro pours into his movies, and it just makes you love them more. He describes working on a movie as giving “your blood to this particular brother, which is cinema,” as something you should give your whole heart to.
So, to conclude this long-winded rant, I just wanted to point out the true movie magic that del Toro creates each time he touches a camera. He’s one of the shrinking number of directors left in Hollywood who have continued to forge their own path in passion projects over accepting studio deals to direct the next 10 and a half Marvel movies. His movies defy genres while still providing a compelling story with gorgeous visuals. This is a director with so much understanding of how movies can tell beautiful, human stories that he is able to make us fall in love with monsters.
Why else would an Academy that let The King’s Speech beat The Social Network for Best Picture have chosen to put a movie about a woman’s relationship with a fish man on this year’s ballot for Best Picture? Del Toro is just that good. Here’s hoping he gets the credit (and the accolades) he deserves.