BY EMILY EAGLIN
As a filmmaker & a partial worker of sanitation in the magical city of Baltimore MD, I can’t tell you how honored my life was to be worthy of “protagonist” status in a Guillermo Del Toro film, àshe. It doesn’t take a longer watch than seeing The Shape of Water’s trailer alone to realize Del Toro as one of the few ‘masters’ of cinema, still alive today (also on a basic level if your favorite color is green too you might really feel this film).
Swimming through this piece I was presented with visions of hon-era Baltimore, gods, and scenes of science fantasy grandeur. I found myself absolutely suspended in disbelief--for the amphibious creature, for the sanitary personnel access provided to top-secret research projects, & even for Michael Stuhlbarg’s death (we all know Michael Stuhlbarg will never die). There was, however, one thing present that I just couldn’t reconcile...the plot-centric canal that connected Baltimore City to the ocean.
Now, for those of you familiar enough with Maryland geography to have watched and uttered “that aint right…” bear with me. In The Shape of Water there is a canal, close to a highway or interstate, that connects to the ocean and is within a brief drive of central Baltimore. We even see a glimpse of this “ocean” and it is not that of a finite river slice, but that of a whole Atlantic Ocean pie. For those of you unfamiliar, Baltimore is a port city connected to the ocean by, over 20 miles of, the Patapsco River… So we thought.
Marylanders might easily have written this off as “geographic fictional” or “just a movie”. Or possibly local moviegoers gave Del Toro credit enough to create a realistic image of 1962 Baltimore City, but not enough to avoid research glitches. From the first intentional description of Baltimore as a “Coastal” city, I knew better than to do this.
Herein began my search for Baltimore’s ocean-connecting canal from The Shape of Water, and possible subsequent beaches, that Del Toro has likely been to and wants us to know about. Living in Baltimore, it takes no more than watching the weekly news to get hip to the fact that this City and its officials are hiding more than their average share of ‘the truth’. It could be argued that Baltimore is a city run without those at the top knowing the meaning of this word, period. What, then, would be holding them back from hiding Baltimore’s beaches, canals, and anything else Del Toro can cinematically conjure and expose?
Somebody has to know the truth. Someone knows what’s being hidden. But also somebody knows why. I began to meditate on what’s at stake here. I imagined a Baltimore city where its residents could possess some form of escape, where we could all just go to the beach and “chill”. I saw pick-up games of volleyball between sports fans and haters alike. Sand mermaids & sand rats. I saw a beach to be unveiled by the people, utilized for the people. This was no mere mistake or research overlook on behalf of Del Toro’s production, but rather, an urban conscious treasure map to a future of coexistence.
I felt alone, dumped, and abandoned at this crossroad. Was I left powerless in the face discovering Maryland's greatest innovation since John Water's Multiple Maniacs? Were there grants for this? I dug his craft, but Del Toro had never led me down such a plagued path. I sat in my car with only the company of WYPR jazz and agonized.
Then I remembered this: In states where we, as the living, come face to face with desolation, there is only one power we can invoke for guidance. So I did what any other lost girl in the sprawling neverland of Baltimore would do.
As soon as I got home I lit a candle to the Orisha, Yemaya, Mother of all & ruler of oceans. Ancestors, Hear my plea, Help me not to make a Fool of me... Suddenly, all around me, my room was rapidly taking on water. My basement bedroom windows were lodged open and looking out of them I saw I was 9-15 feet deep under, somehow warm, palm colored saltwater. Thinking quickly I climbed to the highest point of my shared town home, nobody else was in, I found my way to the rooftop. There was a warm and coercive wind that pushed me towards the flooding waters, I watched as a fever of stingrays (possibly from the aquarium) ‘drove down’ my street, signaled left and turned out of site. I looked above, at first I thought that it was just cloudy, at a second glance I realized a steady stream of cowrie shells falling from the sky, leading me in the same direction as the wind. I dove into the water and began to swim down my street. I could see the tips of tree tops from the park of the Maryland Zoo, and that the water was gradually rising.
swam past a great white shark, penguins diving for fish, and countless floating Colt 45 bottles, not realizing that they were filled with something sacred. I grabbed one from the water’s surface and exhaustedly took a break on a nearby fire escape, its glass contained a delicate message. Written in a cryptic cursive, I could barely make out the script, “You’ve more to discover than you have to ask”. Dismayed, I realized my determined approach was wrong all along, I was not meant to ask a people, rather, I was to ask their collective unconscious. I looked at the end of the cowrie shell rain, it was at a cafe called ‘Dovecote’, one I had been to many a time. However, it was towering high as the shot tower and guarded by powerful druids guarding Yemaya’s power. In awe, my spirit grew weak, I fainted and I sank deep.
Awaking in my apartment I drove straight to Dovecote, having taken already a week off of work, I couldn’t waste my time by occupying spaces I was not being guided to. I went to order my regular Honey Pot toned coffee and a peach upside down cake and was told it had been ordered for me, and was waiting outside. Peering out of the cafe’s windows I could see a figure sitting outside who was not there before, I thanked my sis at the register and cautiously walked over.
“Where is the water?” I asked. “¿Estás seguro?” The hooded figure asked back. “Am I sure of what? ¿Que?” I tentatively took a sniff of my coffee and the figure took a sip of a Colt 45, previously hidden under the table. “That this is the question you seek to answer.” This was infuriating and I probably looked like I was straight up tripping. I couldn’t answer this question, it hit my mind like a mind-teaser, a word puzzle, a game. I tried to focus on something else, I realized that the figure’s skin was decked out in swamp colored latin text, I impulsively grabbed their hand ring absorbed hand. “Please”, I pleaded, “I just want to get to the beach.” “¿Cómo?” I asked next. “Por favor, termina.” they replied. “How do I get to the beach? How do I get to the start finding it?” The figure stood tall and distantly answered, “Más como si”. They left and I took my food to go.
The next few days I called off work and spent the daylight with nature. This was not my living to be earned but my calling to fulfill. I had to complete this mission before returning back to life or ‘business as usual’. Before this point in my search I realized that I was just agonizing over not being there, not being done with it all. I wanted to find the canal, I wanted to be on the beach, I underestimated the journey. The kiss of death for any filmmaker. So to speak, I needed to ‘write my way back’ from the beach, beginning where my plot commenced. I was so caught up in logistics and immediate gratification that I neglected the resounding lesson Del Toro has taught us throughout his filmography.
His heroes never sourced leads out of perceived labyrinth, dimension, etc.; they never ultimately needed to reconcile distractions externally to discover an answer within. I granted myself patience, I knew that the beach would come to me within its own time, and not necessarily mine. I continued my canal’s quest into myself, rather than throughout the city, I continued to do research but, in time, realized this as futile as any other approach.
Today was the breakthrough day of my search. After watching movie after movie, speaking to plant after plant, and lighting candle after sage after candle--the way came to me. I followed it amidst a cacophony of sirens, horns, laughter, and clouds, then suddenly, the body was revealed to me. Baltimore’s own beach, ocean, and its canal. I took a nap on the sand and, apologies, opted to not take any pictures. I figured concrete evidence, past this written account, could potentially deny others their own valid journey. I knew that if I had started out with a solid, visualized answer I wouldn’t have made it to this space the way that I did. Sea monsters, Russian conspirators, and cowrie shells I did not see, and though rain was in the forecast for the evening, the sky stayed clear. I stood up and walked the kelp coated shoreline, looking out into the Atlantic and asking what questions should I be asking? And why had I never asked this question before.
Long story short y’all, loved The Shape of Water, if you haven’t seen it it’s currently playing at the Charles Theater in Baltimore & leading this year’s Oscar nominations (congrats). Hope you enjoyed my review, thanks so much for reading, please peep & follow my Facebook for more where this came from: https://www.facebook.com/FilmFairy/