There are so many things that can be said about The Shape of Water, most of which have already been said, but to simply put it, the film is an enchanting love story unlike anything else. Much like Del Toro’s other film Pan’s Labyrinth, Shape of Water contains fantastical elements in a realistic setting, this time in Cold War America.
Guillermo del Toro is a master filmmaker and has created, what everyone has called, a modern fairytale for adults. Borrowing elements from Beauty and the Beast and Creature from the Black Lagoon (I’m sure there are several other films that he drew inspiration from) del Toro has managed to create another mesmerizing film that feels familiar but is incredibly unique.
The film follows Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman trying to find love and feel complete. We’re introduced to her performing her normal rituals (which include a good amount of water). We see her cook with water, masturbate in the water, and more importantly, she dreams of water. From this, we begin to understand her romance later on. Elisa lives in an apartment above a movie theater alongside her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). Both enjoy each other’s company watching old movies and following in love with what they’re seeing; Giles watches these films and is reminiscent of the past and seems to be stuck in it. He speaks to Elisa about his problems, his woes, his struggles, and Elisa being mute, listens.
The same goes for her friend/coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) who often complains about her life and her husband, while they work in a government facility. There is no question in my mind that both Giles and Zelda care for Elisa, but they each have problems and this is where we begin to explore one of the films main theme: love. Whether it is received, unreciprocated, or failing, love is constant in the film.
Where Elisa works she encounters an aquatic creature from South America who is only known as the Amphibious Man, played brilliantly by Doug Jones. The people who worked on the creature did a stellar job. It is in the facility where the romance between the creature and Elisa grows. Both of the characters, who are mute, communicate with one other seemingly perfect, while every other character who does speak have a hard time communicating what they feel. Which to me seems rather poetic.
Overseeing the facility is Strickland (Michael Shannon) who showcases this idea of a “perfect America.” The character practically lives the “American Dream” by living in the suburbs, having 2 kids (who seem to adore him), a loving wife, and owning a brand new Cadillac; things that show a status of success. But Strickland holds a deadly conviction, much like the setting in the film, and shows his insecurities which leads to him being a dangerous antagonist.
Now the visuals in the film are breathtaking, as well as the cinematography. There are scenes where we see drops of water dance and take shape then transition to the next scene effortlessly. The scenes underwater, specifically with Elisa and the Amphibious Man are mesmerizing and incredibly sensual; a beautiful fluidity with the motions of the characters.
The very last moments of the film transported me underwater and it felt like I was dancing with the characters. The film feels pure and amidst its fantastical elements, the love between Elisa and the Amphibious Man feels all too real and genuine.
The Shape of Water is released December 8th in select cities, so check your local theater and see where it’s playing. You can check out the trailer here.