Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) is endlessly rewarding. The rubber Gill-man suit at the film’s core has the abstracting power of an African mask, and director Jack Arnold instinctively recognizes this epistemological state of affairs, flaunting the suit with the childlike wisdom of a freak show exhibitor. Watching human actors interact with such an obvious tangible violation of both the taxonomic order and the paleontological record is paradoxically an elemental occurrence.
Arnold does everything the European minimalist film directors do and more. His subject is not an abstracted representation of an ordinary object; it is a complex, polymorphous symbol for the limits of human consciousness. His mise-en-scene is geometrically sparse and direct, further accentuating the encounters between the human and the non-human. The tangibility of the famous costume not only enhances the artifice of the Creature, but also breaks down each of its movements into digestible chunks, allowing for longer and more thorough periods of examination. The moving suit functions in a manner similar to that of stop-motion animation. One tangible “reality” comes into contact with another, bringing into question the ontological status of all thoughts and non-thought entities. For these reasons, among others, Creature (and its two sequels) is an unsurpassed wild card in film. One of the most important artistic questions raised by the film is this: Does a separation exist between “highbrow” and “lowbrow” art? My answer is ultimately no. At least, not at the fundamental level of consciousness.
A retrospective review by Barry Germansky