Jacques Audiard's Rust and Bone (France, 2012) and Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water (US, 2017) tell, in very different ways, a familiar story: a disabled, female protagonist is rehabilitated by romance, restored in her role as the object of heterosexual desire. Stephanie, in Audiard's film, has both her legs amputated after an accident at her job training orca whales. The mute Eliza, in del Toro's, falls in love with an amphibian creature held captive in the laboratory where she works as a cleaner. Why these invocations of the sea and its creatures? What makes marine life such a compelling metaphor in disability narrative? Here the author considers the ways that water and aquatic animals trouble the boundary between life and nonlife, gesture toward the always-uninhabitable space of the other, and become points of contact between the visual and the material. In both films, these images, the author argues, reveal cinema's fantasies of weightlessness and containment, ableist fantasies that are always steeped in the desire to preserve the spectator's imagined bodily integrity. But these metaphors also reveal cinema's ability to confound space and visibility, to produce discontinuous and immaterial forms of life, and, in so doing, to challenge dominant notions of embodiment and wholeness. Drawing on contemporary work in disability theory as well as the writings of John Berger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Gilles Deleuze, the author offers a reading of these films that both lays bare the extent of their ableism and locates the moments in which they offer us ways of thinking otherwise.

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