Thanks to a breach at GoDaddy, this series fell behind by a full month and this installment thus marks the first one written after I turned 40. Missed my deadline by this much.

Losing access to my site was frustrating for several reasons:

    • I had slacked on the 40/40 project over the summer but worked hard to catch up. But this exploded my schedule anyway.
    • It showed me how little I know about web design, IT, web security, and whatnot. I spent hours looking for answers and engaged in multiple service tickets, but the site was only fixed after I hired a professional to fix the access issues (consider this a hearty recommendation for Kaytdid PGH). It felt like every new acronym was more confusing than the last, and the problems cascaded.
    • It showed just how reliant I’d become on the internet, as I hadn’t saved local backups for anything on my site, and all of my half-written installments were inaccessible.
    • I really wanted to be done with this so I could move on to my 2022 projects. (Details forthcoming!)


So it goes. 🙂

Guillermo Del Toro is a fitting filmmaker given the environment. His career is strewn with unfinished projects (At The Mountains of Madness; The Hobbit; Pinocchio) and sometimes it seems like his ideas are too big to fit within the limitations of technology, films, budgets, and timelines. I’m surprised that he didn’t stay in television after adapting The Strain, a realm that (in 2021) feels more conducive to big ideas. Maybe this Pinocchio film, should it get finished, will be the last of his blank checks for the big screen. Seriously, who wants to see two Pinocchio adaptations in 2022? I generally like Del Toro and respect his love of prosthetics and creature effects. I’m not too high on Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Pacific Rim (2013), or Blade II (2002), but each of those didn’t click for me for various reasons (Pan’s feels like a retread of The Devil’s Backbone (2001), but with more cruelty; Charlie Hunnam is a disaster in Pacific Rim; Blade II is disastrous across the board).

The Shape of Water, though, feels like the movie that best implements Del Toro’s aesthetics, his love of monsters, his use of the traumatized as protagonists, and his whiplash flitting between horror, comedy, and whimsy.

This was another movie that slipped past me on initial release. I read of its awards season wins, but didn’t watch it until the pandemic quarantine began and I went overboard on acquiring physical media. All that I knew, going in, was that a lady fucks a fishman. That appears to be the movie’s legacy. There are worse things to be known for.

I didn’t love The Shape of Water immediately, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. There are a lot of charming performances. Doug Jones as the monster and Sally Hawkins as Elisa vibe with Del Toro and their chemistry elevates the beauty & the beast tropes. Michael Shannon plays a great 1950s villain, a zealot workaholic with a rotting soul (and rotting finger). Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Stuhlbarg are great as other characters trapped to varying degrees by the institutions of the 1950s. My rewatch validated what I suspected: the movie feels fully formed in a way that few big movies are. All of the pieces, no matter how fanciful or perfunctory, fit together. And the locations—from the lab to Elisa’s apartment to the pie shop to the city bus to Strickland’s house—feel aesthetically and thematically connected in the world at large.

An easy criticism of The Shape of Water is that the allegory is thinly veiled: oppressed figures (women, Black citizens; a monster; a gay man; a communist) banding together to overcome their societal repression. But, c’mon: that’s a lot more subtext than the average streaming release.

Speaking of feeling trapped, anyone who has ever gone to a healthcare provider in the United States knows the feeling of being wholly powerless. Healthcare plans are generally shaped like this:

    1. Choose from three or four options, with the benefits of each buried multiple pages into a PDF. Sometimes there is a small table that provides a breakdown of deductibles and copays, but they could have drastically different numbers on every other front and you may never know. (For those getting healthcare on their own, i.e., not via an employer, the costs will be higher, the coverage even worse, and the options become a thousand plans with miniscule differences.)
    2. Now pay a monthly fee just for access to this plan.
    3. Use a very shitty website to find a list of providers within the plan’s network. Write down every name, because at least 75 percent of them are not taking new patients or are dead or retired or are listed for an incorrect specialty. You’ll be making a lot of calls.
    4. Go to healthcare provider for a routine check anywhere from a few days to three months from the scheduling call. Pay a copay or coinsurance (unless the appointment counts toward some annual checkup, in which the fee is waived). 
    5. Fill out three forms in paper despite filling out identical forms online prior to the appointment. Sign a privacy statement that they won’t let you read first.
    6. Medical assistant will take your weight, blood pressure, pulse. Answer more questions, all of which you’d already answered digitally and in paper. They’ll also ask you about any recurring health problems despite supposedly getting all of your medical charts from your previous providers (spoiler: they never get the previous charts).
    7. Doctor will enter room fifteen to thirty minutes later. Will ask the same questions as assistant. Will look in your ears, will write a prescription or suggest treatment options, then will leave after five minutes at most.
    8. Assistant will schedule your follow-up and then send you to outpatient desk.
    9. The outpatient desk, 100% of the time, will just send you on your way because you were already scheduled in the room, and they have no idea whatsoever what anything will cost you until it is billed to the insurance.
    10. Said bill will arrive in the mail between one and one hundred days after appointment. Pay even more should you have a deductible. Then pay even more if the appointment was determined to be out-of-network, or the provider entered the code wrong, or the billing person was having a bad day. 
    11. Repeat, with additional hassles and steps should you require a prescription and additional steps if the prescription isn’t covered by insurance.


This is for mundane appointments, like mole checks or flu shots or what have you. Anyone with an ailment that requires regular care will be even more stressed (emotionally and out-of-pocket), especially if there is a billing issue that has to be resolved individually for every appointment. And if you have an unexpected illness that costs a lot to treat (and they always do), just hope to god and sunny jesus that you have a low deductible, as otherwise you’ll owe potentially thousands just to get to the point where you’ll start owing thousands until you reach the out-of-pocket maximum.

Now do all of that shit on a fixed retirement income, or with young kids (who have their own health costs), or at a job where you don’t have paid-time off for appointments and forty-five-minute customer service calls. People just don’t go to the doctor in most of those situations… up to the point where it may be too late and an illness has become a chronic illness.

This stuff enrages me and makes me feel powerless. And the only solutions to it are to move to a civilized country or to make so much money that one can hand-wave the costs of staying alive in the healthcare scam of late-stage capitalist United States.

I truly do not understand how an issue like healthcare reform can have any opponents (other than insurance providers or shareholders of hospitals). I assume that people who don’t want Medicare For All or any public health infrastructure have not yet felt the financial costs of themselves or a loved one becoming seriously ill. 

Because that’s the thing about healthcare: we all get sick eventually. We can’t outrun mortality. The amphibian man and Elisa escape into the sea at the end of The Shape of Water and the evil Strickland is defeated. It is a moment of triumph for the two main characters, made bittersweet because their friends and allies are still trapped (or dead) in their own situations. I don’t begrudge the two lovers their happy ending, but it is helpful to be mindful that one’s success is rarely a solo achievement, and that we need to look out for each other, even if it doesn’t directly benefit us. 


Other 2017 candidates: Blade of the Immortal; Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets; Atomic Blonde; Logan Lucky; Good Time


I turn 40 in December. To commemorate the milestone, I’m writing 40 short biographical essays pertaining to a movie per year of my life.