I have just watched “The Shape of Water” Guillermo de Torro’s new film. I was initially rather baffled by what I thought of it. Lush, lovely, moving, interesting but how did the various themes fit together. How to reconcile the central love story between the mute janitor, Elsa, and the Creature and the back story of the Cold War. What I began to understand was what happens when Difference is encountered. Be that the difference between spoken words and sign language:between Gay and Straight or East and West. In each of these cases, de Torro shows how much we fear the Other. From this fear comes a wish to destroy and kill it because we do not trust what we do not understand. De Torro’s film shows what happens when someone is willing to take a chance and trust the Other. (What follows is at first a kind of death but from this comes Life.)
As a counsellor I was also struck by how profoundly true de Torro’s film is in relation to the inner world. We fear the unknown in ourselves. When a patient brings a dream to a session it is fascinating to see where this takes us. (Dreams being the royal road to the unconscious,, as Freud put it.) Give time and space to think about the dream and its possible meaning and much rich material is gleaned from the unconscious. Material which can be upsetting and unnerving at times, leaving one thinking, “Is this really me? I don’t want to have to see this as part of me. It is so far from the Me I think I know.” (This recognition is one of the themes of de Torro’s film.) Yet until we can see, know and accept those hidden parts of ourselves, we are not really able to live fully or so it seems to me!
Another of Freud’s dictums was that the point of psychoanalysis was to bring into consciousness the unconscious which allows us to think about it and understand it. (Thereby detoxifying it.) This willingness to accept the Other is often achieved at some cost. It can be a shock to be presented with a part of ourselves that like Torre’s creature, seems utterly different to us. Yet take the risk and meet it, and new worlds open up.