Gene Tierney and Rex Harrison in ''The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,'' 1947 via Flickr.

I wrote about the 2018 Best Picture Oscar winning film “The Shape of Water” when it first came out. I predicted it would be the darling of the industry and prophesized it would win a bunch of Oscars. Though it didn’t win as many as I thought, my prognostication about its status and the fact it won Oscar’s top prize is validation enough.

Having not much else to say about a movie that few people in 2019 will be able to identify as the 2018 winner of the Academy Award for best picture, I thought I was done with giving “The Shape of Water” another thought. But last week, people at my day job were talking about the film. They really loved it.

I kept my mouth shut — a feat of herculean effort — and gave little personal indicators of how much I disliked this film which wears its anti-humanity and denial of God’s divine plan like a badge of honor. Not exactly “ice-breaker” talk around the coffee machine.

It was only when a middle-aged woman in the group mentioned she had seen the film with her daughter and her boyfriend — whom she prefaced was a “conservative Catholic” — did my ears prick up. The boyfriend didn’t like the film. She did not go into detail why the boyfriend didn’t like the film but made it very clear it had a lot to do with his “conservative Catholicism.”

I’ve never much cared for labels like “conservative” and “liberal” when it comes to the faith. Church teaching is not up for floor debates and bills of amendment. I fully embrace the tradition of the development of doctrine but only within the bounds of how the Church has always viewed it. One does not have to be a right-leaning or left-leaning Catholic to be troubled about a film whose basic tenet blurs the lines between the two kinds of love — Eros and agape.

No need to raise a fist in the air and curse the godless Hollywood machinery that can produce such dubious products like “The Shape of Water” and its inhuman and twisted view of love. It’s not worth the effort.

Instead I will light a candle, and hark back to a distant era which, fortunately for the unreconstructed, is as close to us as the nearest fiber optic cable streaming Netflix.

“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” and “The Shape of Water” share a basic and essential plot device — a fantasy romance. But that is where the similarity ends. Mrs. Muir, played by the 1940s film icon Gene Tierney, is a widow with a young daughter. She’s strapped for cash and must rent a beach community home that is so reasonable because it happens to be haunted. Rex Harrison, the ghost of a cantankerous and worldly sea captain, is the haunter.

The romance that develops between Mrs. Muir and the sea captain is impossible and the more they grow fond of each other, the more stark the impossibility of it all becomes. Today, there would be a magic genie that gives the ghost a body or makes Mrs. Muir a spirit. That would be fantasy of course, but it wouldn’t be romance.

The innate sadness of people on opposite and impenetrable sides of reality is what makes people reach for the Kleenex in these kinds of movies and though I promise neither Rex Harrison or Gene Tierney were thinking they were making some great philosophical/theological statement, compared to the theological and philosophical disaster that is “The Shape of Water,” they kind of were.

There’s a villain in both movies; there’s always a villain. But instead of a government agent representing s a monolithic political villainy through a neo-Marxist prism, the bad guy in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” is a lot more old-fashioned and, as such, much more realistic. George Sanders is the dirty rotten scoundrel who manipulates Mrs. Muir’s affections, and the methods he employs are the same ones being utilized by so many of the men in the audience who were applauding “The Shape of Water” for its big win.  

So, forget about the Oscar winner — if you want a romantic fantasy that is life affirming and human affirming, see “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” I won’t spoil the movie for anyone who is interested…but I will warn you to keep the Kleenex handy.  

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