"I like to stick to my own species," she cracks.
Evidently, Del Toro has altered his own position on this point since then, judging from the rapturous love story at the heart of his beguiling new movie, The Shape of Water.
In this romantic pairing, the heroine is a mousy, spinsterish woman scrubbing floors at a secret government facility, and the hero is a man-sized amphibian, complete with gills, fish scales, and webbed digits.
Okay, what couple doesn't have their issues? But in the name of diversity, tolerance, and the right to fall in love with whoever you choose, their relationship blossoms into one the year's most poignant love stories.
Which got me thinking about the age-old Beauty and the Beast trope and how it continues to be updated through the generations.
Thoughts already much on my mind during the writing of my own B&B-inspired novel, Beast: A Tale of Love and Revenge. (Coming in July to a bookstore near you!)
After a few centuries on the old wives tale circuit, the story was first set down in print in the 18th Century, as an instructive tale for young ladies about to be married off by their families to scary older men. The point was to train timorous young brides to see beyond the ferocious-seeming exterior to the humanity within.
But the tale is always ripe for alternative interpretations and debate, around a few central questions: What constitutes beauty and beastliness? Does physical beauty make one beautiful? Does a a beastly face make one a monster, even if one has a human heart?
Does one have to be considered beautiful to be worthy of love?
Del Toro's heroine is not considered a beauty, and she's further marginalized by her inability to speak. Despite his monstrous appearance, the beast character here demonstrates empathy, intelligence, and compassion. The only real monsters in the story are human.
|Julia Adams meets The Creature: blood-curdling|
|Linda Hamilton, Ron Perlman: Romantic|
In pop fiction (the fairy tales of today), we've come a long way since the monstrous "Gill-Man" in The Creature From the Black Lagoon (to whom Del Toro pays such loving homage). Back then, the ferociousness of this "monster" elicited from co-star Julia Adams one of the juiciest, most blood-curdling screams in the history of movies.
We've seen the lion-faced Vincent as romantic hero in the old Beauty and the Beast TV series. We've seen a generation of sexy vampires and werewolves, to whom their human prey all too eagerly succumb. Del Toro intuits the time may be right for an unapologetic sort of "beast" who doesn't have to be revealed as a (yawn) handsome prince to earn his happy ending.
And here's the best part (SPOILER ALERT) — in Del Toro's movie, they find a way to be together. A lovely, poetic way.
Because, really, who doesn't root for the Beast to end up with the woman he's wooed and won?