When my turn came to write for “Films That Made Us Happy” series, I had only one film in my mind: The Shape of Water. It is not only my favourite film of the year (in a tie with Terence Davies’ A Quiet Passion) but it is also the one that made me feel a way that is impossible to explain with words – which is why I wrote five drafts of this piece, each one somehow more inadequate than the other to convey how I felt.
I saw The Shape of Water many months ago, back in October, at a film festival in Istanbul. I had the worst seat, right at the front row, telling myself that it was going to suck and my neck was going to hurt for days. Plus I went to the film without knowing anything, I had no idea what I was about to see, and had only bought to ticket because it was a Del Toro film. But then I heard Alexandre Desplat‘s score, the camera swam to Elisa’s apartment, I heard the lines “princess without a voice” and I knew I was about to witness something that’d haunt me (in a good way) for a long time. I watched the film, afraid to blink and miss anything, afraid to breathe and ruin a moment. At the end I could not leave my seat until the end of the credits because not only I was shaken to the core, but also I was afraid to be scolded by people around me for sobbing my heart out and possibly ruining their experience. I completely forgot I had a ticket for Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled, starting in an hour at the other side of the city. I went back the next day to another screening of The Shape of Water, begging the guy to let me in despite not having a ticket and watched the film again, sitting on the stairs. Since then I have watched the film three more times through screeners. (I am ashamed to say I watched it three times in the span of 36 hours and I plan to see it many more times on the big screen once it hits the theatres in Turkey.). I’ve seen and read every single interview related to the film, I’ve begged my friends who bought the art book to tell me everything (the curse of living in a country where one dollar equals four of my currency is painful, dear friends), I’ve felt a childish anger every time Sally Hawkins lost a best actress awards and I’ve driven my friends mad with my obsession (the joke is on them, my annoying obsession eventually turned them the into fans too).
So what is it about this film that makes me feel so deeply, shakes me through the core and leaves me sobbing every time I watch it? I am not sure of the answer yet, all I know is this film changed me in a way that I cannot comprehend. I fall in love with it every time, at ever view, at every acceptance speech of Del Toro, every listen to the soundtrack. I cannot explain the effect this film has on me without giving you a glimpse of my life.
I grew up in sad circumstances I won’t go into much, but one of the components of that sad childhood was loneliness. Loneliness has been at the centre of my life for as long as I can remember and, like you’ve heard a thousand times before, a lonely child’s companion are stories. Stories, of everyone and everything, made me who I am; they’ve been with me longer than anyone which makes it no surprise that I turned out to choose writing as my profession. I embraced loneliness and thought, up until this year, that loneliness was my greatest friend and it would never betray me. I spent most of my life as an outsider, and often cursed my luck for being a working class lesbian writer in a country when none of those things were accepted, but I lived not so bad none the less. In the spring of 2017 I graduated university, and due to some issues, I had to take a gap year before continuing my education. Not the sort of gap year that rich kids take, but the sort that you call a gap year because you’re too ashamed to say you’re sitting at your mother’s home all day, doing absolutely nothing, with all your friends starting their life and forgetting you ever existed. Since the graduation, I’ve turned angry, tired and most importantly, lonelier than ever. I’ve been drowning in masters applications, stress and bitterness towards everyone. My depression (which I’ve suffered since I was 13) came back harder than ever. I became the worst person I’ve known and thought, at the age of 23, that my life was done and I either had to suffer through the rest of it, or not. That’s when The Shape of Water came, like a fairy godmother, and pulled me out of the darkness I was suffering in. It gave me a big warm hug and told me it was going to be okay.
When I watch Sally Hawkins as Elisa, I am overflowing with love. I watch her, in astonishment, in admiration, and inspiration fills my body. I think to myself, “How can a person possess such talent?”, and I am filled with hope for if the beauty of her performance exists, if there is something so delicately done, so ethereal then it must mean the world possesses some beauty too. I watch Octavia Spencer, laugh hard each time when she says “Oh Lord, never trust a man!” I watch Doug Jones move, and communicate, without a word and the way he brings this creature to life is wondrous. I close my eyes and dream of an apartment with waves on the walls shining with the light coming from the theatre below. I do my daily chores accompanied by the soundtrack and I find myself dancing to it, involuntarily. I smile every time I eat an egg, and every time I take a bath.
I love this film because I needed it in my life and in this dark state of the world, I think we all need it. It is so cliche that it makes me gag but, The Shape of Water reminded me that there is love, there is kindness and if I try, I’ll find both around me. I’ll find a Giles and a Zelda, maybe even a creature who’ll look at me and see me as I am. I am kinder than I was, filled with joy and hope that I haven’t felt in a long time, all thanks to Guillermo Del Toro and his magic.
This film will never know how much I love it.
“Films That Made Us Happy in 2017” is a Much Ado writing series in which each of our writers share a personal essay on a film that brought them joy.