You have the antagonist, the romance, the action, the gore. It sounds like your average movie, but it is so much more. Throw in a beautiful amphibian-humanoid creature, a mute janitor, a closeted gay artist, and a scary general man. And did I mention it’s set in the 1960s with the Cold War heating things up? So add Russian spies to this crazy mix. And what do you get?
You get The Shape of Water, which is exactly like the shape of water ― something indescribable yet filling in the end. There are many elements to this film that are either incredibly bizarre or basically cliché. There were many chances for this to become a huge miss, yet Guillermo del Toro somehow makes it work, hitting it out of the park with this familiar fairy tale with a spin.
It’s an ordinary story line with strange, complex characters. Sally Hawkins’ portrayal of Elisa is stunning ― with very few words spoken, she is more developed than many other characters that won’t stop talking in other movies. Though she is disabled in one aspect of life, she is powerful and passionate and determined. In a world where she feels she is less than human, her humanity shines through an inhuman being. She displays her emotions loudly. She says what many fear to think. She lives her life unapologetically. She lives and she loves. And that makes Elisa such an admirable protagonist, an outcast just trying to leave her mark in the world in a small, meaningful way.
By her side are two trustworthy people that pass the tests of friendship time and time again. Octavia Spencer offers comic relief as Elisa’s coworker, translator, and friend. Her sassy remarks and attitude perfectly complements Elisa’s equally sassy, yet quiet, demeanor. Richard Jenkins, though just a supporting character, has his own sad, tragic life, yet his understanding and support for Elisa is heartwarming. There’s not much to say about Michael Shannon except that he is one scary man. I would not want him interrogating me, and every second the general was on screen made me tremble with fear. The cast really captured different extremes of personalities that are realistic but distinct enough. Motivations for each character are made clear and understood, even if they are despicable, but it shows the different underlying fears that ultimately drive the plot.
And now we get to “the Asset”. The graphics somehow make him oddly believable ― he’s not some crazy fantasy creature that can’t be imagined in real life. That’s the best part with this movie ― it presents some elements of fantasy, but it is executed in a way that makes it not completely out of the realm of possibility. Maybe this amphibian human really does exist somewhere in the world. After watching this movie, I wouldn’t be surprised.
Music plays a huge part in this movie, which I think is quite fitting. It is a form of communication and mutual understanding, a language on its own. It offers a bridge, a connection, between the silent and the surreal. There was only one scene in the middle that kind of took me out of the movie, as it felt out of place with everything else. Though its purpose was clear and it was like a fantasy dream within a fantasy tale, it was too over-the-top for me personally.
Nonetheless, this really is a beautiful film, and the message of it is clear: everybody is somebody, even if that somebody is an amphibian-man or a ruthless killer. Don’t mess with the Russians, but don’t mess with the Americans either. But even more importantly, don’t mess with love. Love is unbreakable. The bonds that form against all odds, against all explanations, against all reason, are the strongest.
So what is the shape of water? I don’t exactly know. It’s not something you can explain. Which is why you should go watch this movie and experience it for yourself. Now showing at the Michigan Theater for $8 with a valid student ID.