“The Man Of The Future”: Richard Strickland, THE SHAPE OF WATER’s “Prince Without A Kingdom”.



“What makes a man a ‘man’ , a friend once wondered. Is it his origins, the way he comes to life?
I don’t think so. Its the choices he makes; not how he starts things but how he decides to end things.”

HELLBOY (2004)

This question, and the notion of 20th-century masculinity, has long been a theme in Guillermo Del Toro’s films, be it in subtext or front-and-centre. In his worlds, the real ogres wear very familiar forms. Usually handsome (or at least, rugged), with a penchant for sartotial style over inner substance. More often than not, they can be found in a position of authority or “respect”, which they wield with impunity and brutality. They are hard men with no appreciation for beauty or compassion, products of their environment or merely the latest recipients of an ongoing cycle of abuse. This essence, this spirit of toxic masculinity, takes many names and many faces. It’s in the impeccably groomed sadism of PAN’S LABYRINTH ‘s Captain Vidal. CRONOS’ thuggish Angel De La Guardia. The sullen Jacinto of THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE. And in THE SHAPE OF WATER, in Michael Shannon’s sharp-dressed company man, Richard Strickland.

As Occam Aerospace’s Chief of Security, Strickland is the man of the hour, the hero of his own story. Having captured the film’s amphibious Amazonian “Asset”, Strickland carries himself with the air of a decorated war hero: rigid, shoulders back, his tall frame restrained in a tailor-made suit that keeps him tight and streamlined. His life at home is Rockwellian perfection, his family of the prototypically nuclear variety. He has a doting and beautiful wife, a daughter & son and a home-cooked meal waiting for him when he walks in the door. Cold War-era suburban perfection. And none of it seems to make him happy.

Sex with his wife is a passionless chore – as he laboriously makes love to his wife, he puts his hand over her mouth, silently whispering for quiet. His relationship with his children rings hollow, with a detached half-interest in what his children tell him about their day. When his family’s unyielding chatter and the loud volume of the constantly blaring TV become too much, he escapes to his car in the driveway and sits. The only sound, the patter of raindrops against glass and Detroit steel. This is a man out of sorts with the perfect life he’s created for himself.

At work, though, Strickland has power. His office, highest point in the building, where he can see all from his desk. The augmented courage he feels with his sleeves rolled up and the slick-black cattle prod clenched in his fist. Here, he feels strong. Here, he feels complete. And he has no hesitation in exerting his influence among the others at Occam. Whether it’s belittling “the help” with racist or sexual innuendo, or mocking the project’s chief researcher for his more humane concerns for The Asset (“ Scientists…they are like artists: They fall in love with their playthings.“), Strickland feels more himself away from the confines of domestic life, where his brutish nature and lack of empathy prevent him from forming a meaningful relationship with his family. He has purpose, and that purpose is serving “the greater good” – in his case, the military-industrial complex who sees his violent nature as boon, not bane. Both Del Toro & actor Michael Shannon have hinted that Strickland’s character notes detail a less-than-ideal realtionship with his father, most likely abusive in nature (and considering his thematic predecessors, it’s easy enough to connect-the-dots here). It’s in his relationship with The Asset that we see his true nature: a natural tendency towards domination, the superior being to this “affront” to nature and God’s will (“You may think that thing looks human- stands on two legs, but we’re created in the Lord’s image. And you don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?“). In a later scene at a car dealerhsip, the salesman tells Strickland, “You are the man of the future.” It’s a line, a sales pitch, but in Richard’s mind, it’s just simple truth, isn’t it?  He is Homo Americanus, the alpha male, by birthright and by dint of his gender , his species and the colour of his skin.
It’s only fitting that he would seek a similar figure of authority as his surrogate father. A man like General Hoyt: the most basic (and laziest) definition of masculine power, Hoyt views emotion and compassion as weaknesses, defining his identity with the brass on his chest and the symbolic weight of his title. The modern ideal of American “manifest destiny”, Hoyt is a fellow “man of action” that someone like Strickland can easily identify with, and willingly emulate.

When The Asset is stolen, Strickland’s grasp on control begins to slip. We see it manifest in his temper, we see it in the rot of his hand, the reattached fingers from his altercation with the amphibious humanoid becoming gangrenous and black, the physical manifestation of his own disintegration. It’s all on him, and he’s feeling the pressure. Enough so, that in a rare instant of humility and honesty, Strickland confides, with Hoyt, his feelings on their dynamic and the weight of it all. The result is one of the film’s strongest moments, and perhaps the only time he elicits any sympathy from the audience .

You’ve know me for how long?… and in all that time, I… This is…what happened here is…A man is faithful, Sir: loyal, efficient all of his life. All of it, and he is useful. And he expects, he has certain expectations in return. And he fails, then. Once. Only once. What does that make him? Does that make him a failure?

When is a man done? Proving himself, Sir? A good man. A decent man.

And in return for opening up, for baring his soul?


A man has the decency not to fuck up- that’s one thing. That is real decent of him. The other kind of decency? It doesn’t really matter. We sell it, sure but it’s an export. And we sell it ‘cause we don’t use it.

See? Thirty six hours from now this entire episode will be over. And so will you…

Our universe will have a hole in it with your outline. And you will have gone on to an alternate universe. A universe of shit. You will be lost to civilization. You will be unborn. Unmade. Undone.

So, go get some real decency, son. And unfuck this mess.

Years of dedication, brutality and servitude, all dismissed with the most casual of airs, by the man he respected the most. A mistake on his part , a moment of weakness, one that he knows he’ll never make again. Strickland doubles down on the “man of action” stance, descending further into rage and violence. He gives himself a pep talk in the bathroom mirror to psych himself up, reminding himself that above all else, he delivers. But even as he performs this act of willful affirmation, though, he’s coming undone. Emotionally and physically, the tight grip of order he has worked so hard to maintain all these years is coming unraveled. There’s a rot taking place, manifested outwardly by his hand, betraying the real sickness that has infected his soul.

At his core, he is a lost little boy, one of Del Toro’s  “princes without a kingdom” : a man with no positive male guidance in their lives, suffering from either abuse or neglect and filling the emotional breaks and gaps with hardness and cruelty. A defense against the world that’s seen fit to break them at an early age. As a child, they were not given everything they needed to feel loved, protected. As an adult, they become the very force that shapes them, the rotten apple falling far too close to the diseased tree. Somewhere along the way, Richard Strickland was broken and robbed of any potential for kindness or sympathy before he even had a chance. But sooner or later, a man chooses whether he will break the cycle or continue to perpetuate it. And it’s that choice that marks the line between sympathy and revulsion. Strickland’s choice, like Vidal and Jacinto before him, ends up determining his fate. and unlike our star (and species) crossed lovers, it’s not a happily ever after.Any sympathy for his sad childhood gets eliminated by his willful cruelty as an adult. Like the other “lost princes”, Stickland dies at The Asset’s hands, right after his final moment of revelation (“Fuck me, you ARE a god!”), finding himself in the presence of a higher power at the very end. Richard Strickland suffers the fate of most tyrannical men. He finds no great reward or tribute for his actions. Only death, bleeding out in the fall rain. His life ends just as he chose to live it: violently, and alone.

Leaving a hole, with his outline, in the universe.



An Open Letter to Ryan Reynolds (and 20th-Century Fox… but mostly Ryan Reynolds)

Dear Mister Reynolds.

First off, congratulations on being Ryan Reynolds. Seriously, you lucked out on that one.
But I digress…

If I can pull you away from your picture-perfect marriage, your adorable child and whatever business comes along with being sexy as hell, there’s something I was hoping to talk to you about. Y’know, plant a bug in your ear.

It’s about your labour-of-love turned license-to-print-money success story, DEADPOOL. Specifically, the sequel. I understand there’s an opening for a director. Now, I’m certain you have a veritable conga line of directors forming around the block for this gig, and no surprise. One of the most successful R-rated movies of all time, not to mention the highest grossing film in the X-Men franchise? That’s a pretty choice checkmark for anyone’s CV! I’d go for it myself if, y’know, I knew the first thing about making a movie! I mean, I find the camera on my phone is challenging at times, and I wouldn’t even know where … I’m off track, again. I’m sorry. I’m getting help for it.

The point is, I’m not the best candidate for the job but I know someone who is.
Two someones, in fact.
Twins, to boot.


Meet The Twisted Twins, Jen and Sylvia Soska. Writers/actresses/directors/all-around badasses.

Now, you may know them from their seminal cult film, AMERICAN MARY. Or their stint as the taskmasters on GSN’s HELLEVATOR. Or their larger-than-life presence on social media. Chances are, though, you’ve heard of them. Especially with everyone making a big to-do on ( your social network of choice) about how they’re the obvious choice to direct the sequel. Before I go any further, yes, social media fooferaw like this should be taken with a sizable grain of salt. Hot button tweets and likes have a short shelf life online and can burn out real quick-like. Ask KONY. He’ll back me up. But the difference here is that the buzz is legit. In fact, you guys have more in common than you may be aware of. How much so? Let me break it down for you, starting with…

1) Number #1 Fan:It’s safe to say that there’s probably not a bigger fan of Wade Wilson’s hijinx than you. A man doesn’t spend that much time cultivating a project like this for A DECADE without a bit of love for it. But I’d be willing to wager that The Soskas could give you a run for your money on Deadpool 101. Not only can they tell you whether or not Deadpool was ever infected by a splinter of the Venom symbiote (answer: yes) , but they’ll tell you which series,volume and issue it happened in. Hell, they’ll break it right down to the page and panel. Believe me, I know! But beyond an encyclopedic knowledge of the character, they GET Deadpool – the character, the universe, the specific quirks and traits that make him such a standout from the rest of the spandex crowd on both the page and screen.

Like you do, really. And who wouldn’t want that in their corner?

2) Hometown Pride: You’re from Vancouver. Guess what? So are they. They know the scene, they know how to get the most bang for your buck out west. It may seem like a little thing, one of those tenuous-at-best connections , but it’s one more point in this little connect the dots, and I’m trying to make an argument here.

3) Ringing Endorsements: As mentioned before, the social networks are buzzing with support and calls for the girls to take the helm. Their fan base is loyal… VERY loyal. And vocal about their support, too. There have been petitions, hashtags and every other media tool possible to spread the word. But there’s also been high praise from other persons of interest, too, that bare mentioning:



Yes. THAT Slash. String-shredding, top-hat-wearing, rock-and-roll royalty!

I’m not saying it’s enough to swing the vote completely but HOLY CRAP, IT’S G-N-F’N-R’s SLASH!!!

4) Maximum Effort: these girls started out 100% DIY, Ryan ( I feel like we can first-name basis this stuff, now. We’ve been through *so* much now.). From a handful of short films to their GRINDHOUSE-inspired DEAD HOOKER IN A TRUNK to the cult-phenomenon that is AMERICAN MARY. Currently, they’re ramping up to start on the remake to David Cronenberg’s RABID, as well as more-projects-than-common sense in development. They know how to make a little look like a lot.And while I don’t know that much about filmmaking (ie: nothing at all), I know that, brother, that ain’t easy.

Put em all together, and what does that spell?

Yeah, I know. I’m sorry.

Look, my opinion doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. I’m neither a captain of industry nor a mover-and-shaker (which incidentally sounds like a substitute name for a go-go dancer). I’m merely a guy with a blog, who happens to occasionally write for other outlets when the mood hits him. That probably puts me just a fraction above “angry teenager with a Reddit page”. The point is, you could do worse things then taking a lunch meeting with them and letting them make the pitch. Hell, Sylvia has stated that she’ll waive her pay for the chance.

I repeat: free labour! That’s living the dream, friend-o!

And what do I have to gain from this? Nothing. I have no horse in this race, and I’m sure there have been more eloquent arguments put forward for the cause.  But I do like to see like-minded individuals come together, especially if it means working together on a passion project like this. Great things can happen when people of  a similar mind-set come together, and this could be one of those moments.

In the end, it’s your call to make, but the signs are there. It’s at least worth mulling over. At the very least, you’ll make Slash a very happy man. And really, who doesn’t want that?

Either way, best of luck with the hunt. And continued success with all that “perfect life that we all envy over here oh-so very much” thing, too.


Ron McKenzie


Jen & Sylvia Soska, with KILL CRAZY NYMPHOS ATTACK co-creator, Daniel Way.                Who also wrote DEADPOOL. So yeah, add THAT to the checklist.