As I sit here, watching another worthless piece of drivel on the outdated tube-TV in our overcrowded living room, the denouement (if you can call it that) of the 2003 cinematic production of “The Shape of Things” unfolds before my eyes. As I watch this entirely unrealistic finale take place (in which the female antagonist of the film commits acts against the protagonist male that are not only unethical, but entirely impossible in the academic situation she presents herself in), I look to my husband and I see that he is absolutely gripped by the moment of emotion taking place on the screen. His hand is to his chest; he looks completely horrified – I think to myself: “my God, is he gullible.”
But you cannot blame him for being the gullible hubs that he is – he, like all other worker-bees in the film industry – have been trained to fall for this sappy, unrealistic melodrama that permeates the on-screen action today. Granted, “The Shape of Things” was produced seven years ago; however, we can point to this as the early onset of the new style of filmmaking, which we see hackneyed and overdone today.
“The Shape of Things” sets up the pattern that seemingly all films do today: we begin with a bizarre and quirky scene. Sometimes it involves a couple (such as in this film) meeting for the first time; often it involves an action sequence or something that is odd but sets up the plot. Our hero is now always an awkward male – in the Pauly Bleaker style of awkward linguistics and stereotypically undesirable physical features. In “The Shape of Things,” we are given Adam, who is overweight, strange, nerdy, and just plain socially awkward.
The bizarre and quirky scene, of course moves on to the incessant dialogue, which also seems to be a contemporary phenomenon in filmmaking. As was the case in Dogville (which had me begging the TV to end the film by the point where we find out Nicole Kidman is the daughter of a mobster), “The Shape of Things” engages us in an unending series of dialogues in which we witness useless and irrelevant discussion points, that do nothing other than add meaningless details to a meaningless story. The worst of these is the dialougue between Adam and his soon-to-be-married friends, where we listen to them talk about how they want to get married underwater – a detail which bears absolutely no consequence to the story at large, in any way, shape, or form.
You would think that a film which lasts for almost two, whopping and laborious hours would have something of a plot; yet, since we are bogged down with endless dialogue, it is difficult to tell. The undercurrent of the film, though, is that Adam’s new girlfriend (introduced in the opening, awkward scene), is “changing” him. The interesting thing about this, though, is that statistically all people in relationships change (and, to be honest, Adam changes for the better). He starts to take better care of himself, physically. He dresses with a little more self-respect. He starts to gain more confidence. These are things that happen when everyone is in a relationship; yet, for some reason our authors imply from the get-go that this is an intentional doing on the part of the girlfriend. It is true that there are a few changes that are a little more major and could be attributed to the girlfriend (ala a nose job), but ultimately they are all natural occurences.
In the end, though, we find that she has done this all on purpose, as a means to use him as an art project for her Master’s Thesis. And so enters the destruction of this film.
Evelyn (please note the obvious ‘Adam and Eve’ reference) presents this portion of her Master’s Thesis Project to a portion of the student body, wherein she announces that she entered into this relationship with poor Adam as a means to see if she could “sculpt” a human being. She has photographs of him. She has pieces of his diary. She has his old clothing. She has films of their sex life. She makes a mockery of him at this presentation as she turns down a marriage proposal (adding his grandmother’s ring to the art display), and he (of course) had no clue of any of this until this final moment of truth.
The problem, though, is that for this to be even remotely believable, she would have had to do something a little more ethical and sane. In the real world, Evelyn would have been both expelled from the university and sued for slander and liable. In the real world, Evelyn would have been required by a judge to take psych meds. In the real world, Adam would not have just stood there and agreed to allow her art project to remain on display for an indefinite period of time. The problem is that the “shock and awe” denouement of this film is in no way shocking, and does not inspire any awe – for it is completely unbelievable.
It is one thing for the contemporary film industry to present a style of film that both empathizes with its audience (the awkwardness of being a person in the world) and creates an unexpected twist at the end. But there is something to be said for doing the latter in a way that people can still relate. The mark of a successful play, film, or other piece of performance art is that the audience is so engaged, and so affected, that they feel it truly touched a part of their life that they may have previously thought no one could understand. Long, drawn out conversation about nothing and completely unrealistic scenarios does not achieve this. Shame on the makers of “The Shape of Things” for taking a potentially interesting idea (the moulding of a human being, and the art of human interaction) and turning it into nothing more than hogwash.