Celebrated artist Guillermo del Toro finds the beauty in the grotesque in a Cold-War era fairy tale that will most definitely move your soul in The Shape of Water.
Charting a unique and colorful love story, The Shape of Water follows the actions of a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) who forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature in a water tank in a covert government agency overseen by the vindictive and ruthless Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon).
Guillermo del Toro is the undisputed king of monsters and has long made a career of analysing their deep significance and the meanings that are detached behind them. He asks the deep questions of these things of our imagination and how often they can be even more human than we are. It’s this desire to explore the dark recesses of the human imagination that really sets the filmmaker apart and here in The Shape of Water, he dissects the very notion of love, in a way that only he can.
Equal parts life-affirming and creepy, The Shape of Water is a beautifully rendered exploration of love and of the two misfits, completely alone in the world who find one another. Make no mistake this exploration of love is extremely different and at times you will be weirded out, uncomfortable almost. Part of that is due to the relationship between a female woman and a mythical creature and their inter-species relationship that takes a very physical and emotional path. But isn’t love supposed to make us uncomfortable? That’s part of what makes love, well, love, it’s a force that moves us to do crazy and unexpected things, and that’s exactly what Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water does.
Guillermo also explores the nation of the classic Beauty and the Beast story and the idea of what makes a monster a monster. In exploring the meeting of the Beauty and the Beast del Toro focuses in on the form of Sally Hawkin’s Elisa a mute who is by no way a classic beauty, but who longs for acceptance and some form of companionship. She is most definitely an oddball, at all kinds keeping to herself and sharing a platonic relationship with her neighbour, the cheer, yet closeted gay Giles (Richard Jenkins). Longing for connection leads her to The Asset (Doug Jones), a mythical creature who is being experimented upon and the two of them strike up an unlikely relationship together.
This relationship is most definitely a beautiful exploration of ‘boy meets girl’, and as the movie progresses it becomes clear that these two characters are most definitely soul mates. They move as together as one and their relationship is a very sweet and tender. But with all forms of love there is most likely always a villain waiting and here it is personified in the terrifying presence of Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland.
Like The Asset, Shannon’s Strickland is also a force of nature and his is humanity at it’s most callous, cruel and dangerous. Strickland is a man for whom the end always justifies the end who and has little empathy or thought for those around him. Del Toro has a history of crafting despicable villains and the character of Captain Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth reminds me of one. Here we get a similar circumstance with a terrifying performance from Shannon. The actor is a complete monster who does unthinkable things to The Asset and who is not above doing despicable things to Eliza. Whenever you see him on the screen your holding your breath at the fear of what he might do next and when the credits draw to a close you are in no doubt as to who the true monster of the film was.
In watching The Shape of Water I must praise del Toro’s artists eye as this film is most definitely a fairy tale come to life. Every aspect of design is well thought out and is infused with an aqua colour scheme that brings you into its world. Through his use of production design, set design, costuming and lighting del Toro draws you into his aqua tinged world and it is a beautiful world to behold. The production design on The Asset, who is portrayed by the supremely talented Doug Jones, is incredible to watch and is beautiful to behold. The Asset can be both romantic and terrifying and is a fully realised creature. While del Toro obviously took reference elements from The Creature from the Black Lagoon for his creature, he has made The Asset his own and with Jones’ performance, it is one of the most misunderstood and sweet creatures to have ever graced the screen.
The Shape of Water is a type of film you rarely see nowadays in today’s superhero tinged world. But having found it I am so grateful that I did because this is cinema that truly moves you and which celebrates the very nature of love and its ability to lead us in our lives. It is a truly miraculous masterwork and you would do yourself a great service to see it. Some movies demand to be seen as pure cinema, up on the big screen with the lights dimmed and eyes focused in on its frame. This is indeed one of them.
Image: 20th Century Fox