Addiction and repetition are both plagues that can’t be faced alone. Many of us amount to living predictable lives because it’s not easy to pave our own paths. The truth is, there are no external sources in the world that are going to make you feel fulfilled in life.
That person you like is not going to fix you. Sex and masturbation will only make you feel lonelier. Drugs and alcohol will only worsen your mental health. Your minimum wage job is not going to get you anywhere.
Paving your own path isn’t easy, but, if we pursue what we want in life despite the obvious danger of doing so, the joys of independence will soon follow.
I’ll be discussing two films to help explain how we can take risks to live more fulfilling lives.
Shape of Water is a film that gives us an inside look into an unusual romantic relationship between a Deep One (lizard-like humanoid creature originating from Lovecraft) and a mute woman named Eliza. This film takes place in a mundane, uneventful, and unromantic world. Shape of Water uses this relationship to show us that love is the only emotion that separates us from everyone else.
The second film, A Street Cat Named Bob, records the life of James, a recovering drug addict trying to survive in a society that abandoned him. He ends up adopting a street cat who follows him on his adventures. After being taken in by an agency that helps drug addicts get back on their feet, his relationship with Bob blossoms as he learns how to trust people and become self-sufficient. James learns about self-sufficiency by prioritizing his resources to become a parent that his cat can rely on.
It’s important to understand the relevancy of building relationships with people you can trust. Part of the human experience is figuring out who you want to accompany you on your adventures. That means calculating who is going to respect your vulnerability, and who is going to take advantage of it.
Shape of Water
In Shape of Water, there is an overwhelming presence of greens in its color pallet. This film takes place during the events of the Cold War, so as a result, we see representations of some of the problems Americans were facing during that time. Racism against African Americans, Homophobia, and the threat proposed by the Soviet Union, were all problems that had become a staple of daily life.
Greens are used to represent a reluctant mindset of advancing into a more progressive society. The people in this film live very unromantic lives because there’s an underlying comfort in settling for something that your community has deemed to be acceptable.
The taboo nature of Eliza’s romantic relationship with the creature compliments this motif, as people aren’t ready to accept new ideas that they don’t understand. Furthermore, it delivers a message that explains that love is the only emotion that will separate you from the rest of the world. This message is demonstrated yet again by its color pallet, using interjections of reds amongst a sea of suffocating greens, to symbolize the beauty and uniqueness of Eliza’s relationship. This relationship emphasizes that if you want to achieve true happiness, you will need to create your own destiny and accept the responsibilities that come from constructing your own future.
For the sake of convenience, from this point forward I’m going to refer to the creature as “Jonathan”, named after Jonathan Joestar from JoJo’s Bizzare Adventure (for his unparalleled politeness, of course).
Green vs Red
The film’s opening introduces us to Eliza’s daily schedule. Every morning, she begins her day with masturbation, makes hard-boiled eggs for lunch, and goes to work.
When she comes home, she goes straight to bed, and the cycle repeats. These activities aren’t necessarily harmful to her health, but since there’s no sense of risk, her life is completely devoid of any excitement. Eliza is equally as guilty of being a slave to social norms as anyone else at this time.
There’s a pie shop called Dixie Dougs, right by Eliza’s apartment that she visits frequently with her neighbor and best friend, Giles, for some key lime pie. Although Eliza finds the taste of the pie to be repulsive, she orders a slice anyway because it’s “tradition” for them to order some every time they get together. We find out later that Giles also found the taste of the pie to be dissatisfactory, and would never make an effort to try another flavor. Being that key lime pie is colored green, it serves as another visual representation of this motif.
It’s not easy for people to transgress against social norms because there’s a sense of security and structure that comes with following the crowd. On the other side of the coin, there’s also a fear that follows this security, in that people are afraid to be burdens on their community and cause chaos. The human brain craves repetition and security, so when we do something that threatens that security, our whole life can turn upside down. There’s also the fear that if what we’re doing is going against social norms, we can start to think that we’re doing something wrong. After all, we’re acclimated to associating the majority with truthfulness.
However, after Eliza met Jonathan for the first time since she had such a powerful experience with someone special, she realized how much uniqueness had been missing in the rest of the world. By definition, she found out where she belonged, and only started to care about what actually mattered to her. When she returns to her apartment, she’s wearing a vibrant red coat, symbolizing her metamorphosis.
The contrast between greens and reds compliments the nature of this taboo and unusual relationship. Jonathan’s abduction from his homeland, and imprisonment in the lab, could be compared to segregation in society, and its discontent towards interracial relationships.
I’ve notice that in any culture, new problems and domestic issues will erupt within its communities, despite how much time has progressed since the previous century. These societies will develop empty excuses to justify its unwillingness to progress into a more enlightened society.
For example, during the period of the Jim Crow Laws (19th century to early 20th century), African Americans were often referred to as being more closely related to apes and monkeys, as presented in various scientific journals and philosophy books.
Of course, these claims are no less than ridiculous. Nonetheless, this supports my point that in many circumstances, people will do anything in their power to find any evidence to support their hypocritical and inconsistent ideals, values, and beliefs. We can see examples of this phenomenon today with the rise of cancel culture, an idea that supports the act of ignoring someone’s endeavors to defend themselves from an accusation in an attempt to drive them into obscurity.
The rise of cancel culture has brought about extremely disgusting behavior, as it has normalized the idea that someone should be ostracized from a society based a piece of evidence that is inconclusive.
For example, some radical members of the far left believe that any rape allegations against other individuals should just be considered to be factual, despite any evidence that supports the idea that the allegation may be false. Many individuals have been falsely ostracized because of this behavior, especially if these false allegations come from women.
In Shape of Water, we can see examples of this disapproval from society in other ways, such as Giles’ homosexual feelings being rejected by the world, and doomed to be exiled from his community.
Once the threat from the Soviet Union becomes is apparent, Jonathan is doomed to be killed to prevent the Soviets from sabotaging the project and using Jonathan for their own endeavors (Ironically, we learn that the Soviets make plans to kill him as well, to, “prevent the Americans from learning”).
After Eliza has experienced what true love feels like after living in a world that thrives in mediocrity, she knows that for her own sake, she needs to save Jonathan from his captors.
Giles initially disapproves of Eliza’s arrangements for a rescue plan. However, after his desires to find something special are chewed up and excreted, he empathizes with Eliza and joins her in the rescue mission because he’s tired of giving up on love.
Once you find out where you belong, you won’t have to worry about anything else. I understand that it’s scary to leave the security blanket of mediocrity, but once you find something so important to you that there’s no doubt in the world that you’ll ever want to do anything else, the notion that you’ll have to work hard for what you want won’t matter anymore. Find a way to use your passion as a platform to change the world, and you’ll be remembered for all eternity.
A Street Cat Named Bob
James, the main character in this story, is a recovering drug addict who’s given a second chance by an agency that helps recovering addicts get back on their feet.
After James meets Bob, he starts to learn the value of independence through their relationship. After taking on the responsibilities that come with being a cat owner, he starts to realize how much of his life has been missing. Had he not taken Bob under his wing, his platform to understand the value of self-love would have been absent.
This is one of the perfect representations of true love that you’ll ever find. True love is represented when both parties mutually respect each other and provide for each other’s needs.
In many ways, this film could be compared to Cast Away. In Cast Away, Wilson serves as a representation of Chuck’s past, so it becomes an essential part of Chuck’s retribution to leave him behind to reach enlightenment.
In the case of James, Bob is symbolic of James’ future. Since cats are often used to represent a motif of independence in storytelling, it’s not unreasonable to consider that Bob could be seen as a representation of the person James strives to be.
In the beginning, James resents the notion of taking care of Bob, but over time, he warms up to him. Eventually, there’s a point where Bob has become so integral to James’ journey, that there’s no way in hell that he’d ever consider giving him away.
As we observe their relationship blossom, we see James develop better self-help skills as he learns what resources to prioritize so they can have what they need to survive. James’ efforts to give Bob the best possible life are representative of James’ journey of learning how to love himself, so he doesn’t have to take drugs to feel satisfaction.
By the end of the film, he serves as a figure of hope for people suffering through addiction. He now uses the experiences he went through as a blueprint for people looking to learn how to love themselves and become independent. Considering that this film is based on a true story, it’s really just magical that his life played out the way it did.
James and Betty
Betty, James’ neighbor, is a character who plays a heavy role in his journey. They fall in and out of love several times throughout the film. Their rocky relationship serves as a testament to James’ process of mastering self-love.
One of my favorite aspects of this film is that it uses a lack of closure to signify the importance of self-love. As James learns more about the value of his uniqueness, his desperation to be with Betty diminishes. In one of the final scenes, after James has completed his grueling journey, Betty tells James that she’s moving away to Ohio to live with her family. Although James is upset, he knows that they both have different goals in life, and some people just aren’t meant for each other.
Neither James nor Betty know if they will ever truly be right for each other, but that’s the whole point. Bob taught James how to rely on the well of happiness deep inside his heart to complete his goals. In one scene when James is talking to his agent, he says “He showed me what’s out there”. There is so much to experience in life, and those experiences aren’t going to be just gifted to you.
Much like Shape of Water, A Street Cat Named Bob discusses how love can change a life full of mediocrity and unromantic repetition, into a life full of joy and opportunity.
Nobody is ever going to save you from the mediocrity you’re settling for. It’s all up to you to seek those opportunities that will allow you to live a more fulfilling life. Independence is the only way you will ever be able to achieve true happiness. There’s no reason for you to fear an opportunity. If you fail and you make a mistake, realize that making mistakes is how we learn to be independent. Furthermore, our imperfections are ways for us to distinguish ourselves from one another and help us establish our uniqueness. Don’t be afraid to take risks. You’ll be rewarded for your bravery.