If I told you about The Shape of Water, what would I tell you? I wonder?
Well, for starters, I don’t think that anyone would have predicted that we would have gotten two adaptations of the classic “Beauty and the Beast” story arc in 2017. While one was a literal Disney re-imagining, following the animated classic almost frame-for-frame, Disney’s March hit Beauty and the Beast was a huge success at the box office and with critics alike. While our second interpretation, The Shape of Water, the film is more of a…lets say, unconventional take on the classic narrative archetype; complete with full frontal nudity, scenes of masterbation, feline decapitation and of course (as with any del Toro film) good ol’ bloody violence, our second interpretation is defiantly a more imaginative and adult directed adaptation.
Yet, the sex, blood, violence, gore and nudity aren’t the things we remember most from The Shape of Water. Instead, we focus on the lucid use of luminous night colours, the amazing characters and all of their flaws, feats and challenges, and most of all, the beauty of such a taboo love story, between two very misunderstood individuals from different worlds.
While del Toro may very well NOT be remembered as a director and writer who flourished making intoxicating love stories, The Shape of Water will surely be a film that challenges that notion greatly.
Set in 1962, del Toro’s newest is an interesting yet ironically reflective film that romanticizes the past with great style. While the past that del Toro is passionate about, his narratives always seem to use the past as a tool that presents an idealized and passionate and very forward way of thinking. In doing so, del Toro uses the past as a reference point of so many of society’s mistakes about women, visible minorities and of course, a repressed society without a voice, hence, why our story centres around a princess without a voice.
Our princess here, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), is an uninteresting mute who, in the first five minutes, establishes her daily routine of her home life, work life and social life in very quick and easy to understand order of routine. Elisa, who works for a highly classified government research facility in Baltimore, has seen many things. Among one of the newest secrets to be housed in the facility, is their most sensitive assets to-date; an aquatic creature that was captured in South America by the highly violent and blue-collard, religious American patriot Strickland (Michael Shannon). Along with her best Zelda (Octavio Spencer), Elisa and Zelda are tasked with cleaning the facility that houses the highly sensitive and elaborate creature from the South American lagoon, with out course keeping in mind that Elisa’s muteness adds to the sense of secrecy. With each passing day and intrigue to blame, Elisa becomes more and more transfixed with the two-legged, finned man-fish who is never given a name but played by the del Toro staple Doug Jones. Clearly, Elisa begins to fall in love with the creature that eats the hard boiled eggs. As each passing night brings the beast and beauty together, Elisa begins smuggling in record players, vinyls and experiences for the creature that begins to humanize him. Sharing her nightly work experiences with her best friend and neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), Elisa finds comfort in the unordinary romance with the “thing” that has captivates her heart, as well as ours.
It would be hard to argue the vision of the passionate and such artful director Guillermo del Toro, especially since his masterwork Pan’s Labyrinth. While Water may not be that films successor, it surely will be remembered along side it for many years to come. A man whose fascination with the gothic and horror elements of storytelling are visibly seen in almost all his works, del Toro has been known for focus on action and the very violent side of story-telling. With The Shape of Water, del Toro places violence and gore aside, alongside with his co-writer Vanessa Taylor, who decide to focus on their shared voice of telling the story, the very contemporary and relevant social commentary, as well as the love story between a woman and a creature who feels and is made to feel, that they do not belong.
The theme of oppression is soaked within each and every frame of The Shape of Water. By choosing on having the main couple in love both mute, the two main voices of the film are Zelda (a black working class woman) and Giles (an artistic, flamboyant artist), two very specific caricatures of people who may have suffered the most amount of oppression and suppression in the United States in the 1960’s. Yet, in a world where Russians and Americans are in a race to superiorly outwit one another, del Toro’s world in the film, doesn’t seem too far from the America we know and despise today. Anchored by one of the most chilling villains of 2017, Shannon’s Strickland is a very stubborn, religious, uneducated and brute antagonist, despite our little glimpse of his idealistic home life, including a loving family of three children, and a beautiful blonde housewife and home-maker that tends to all his needs. Yet, Strickland’s constant degrading and insulting comments to the people around him, whether it be based on their professional position in the world, the way that they look or the conceptualization of God, his character seems to be one of the few characters in the film that seems the most fantastical, yet, at the same time, sadly very realistic in a 2017 Western world.
The Shape of Water isn’t a hard film to really explain; best described as a mix of The Creature from The Black Lagoon and Beauty and The Beast, the film is one that delivers in all areas of cinematic splendour and cinematic appreciation. From the simple design of the creature, given the very practical use of make-up as opposed to CGI, del Toro is a film lover through and through, and The Shape of Water is a good indication of that. It is very easy to see that del Toro isn’t only an auteur filmmaker, but a film theorist and cinephile who knows, appreciates, homages and perfects the classic creature features of our nostalgic film past.
Not for the faint of heart, the R-rated Water is a splendid and magical time at the multiplexes this holiday season. While it may not be my absolute favourite film of 2017, it surely is one that will always be on my mind and one I will remember, long after Oscar season is over, even when the magnificently talented, undervalued and mis-used Sally Hawkins walks away with her Best Actress Academy Award come Oscar night. Luckily, Hawkins isn’t the only magnificent character to marvel at in The Shape of Water; del Toro pulls out all the stops and really allows his actors to absorb their characters, allowing each and every one of them to shine in their own way.
Whether it be Jenkins and his amazing use of physical comedy to propel the storyline and realism of the film, despite its roots in a fantastical world, Jenkins dives deep with her character Giles.
Spencer, who’s Zelda is the moral compass to Elisa’s actions, really shows audience a different side to the already vast filmography of a seasoned, Oscar winning actress.
Shannon’s neurotic Strickland lands amongst some of the best villains we have seen over the last decade; intensifying each and every scene with his astute villainous confidence, its almost as if Shannon washes his hand with all morality and conduct, giving us a villain who is both empathic, yet daringly sadistic. Another memorable character is the always fascinating Michael Stuhlbarg, a superb actor who always delivers hints of menace, compassion and heart, like no other actor working today.
The Shape of Water is a film that really allows audience to appreciate the magnitude and possibility of a fantastic fantasy film being able to accomplish what most Oscar bait films dream of, and that’s craftsmanship, depth and most of all, wonder! While each and every passing scene felt as if was just a figment of my narrow imagination, del Toro and his gifted group of filmmakers showed people living today what its like to have a love like no other; a love that is unexplainable to others and a love that penetrates through dimensions and other worlds, while also being quite beautiful and most of all, thought-provoking cinematic dream fare. The Shape of Water will fill your lungs with amazement, giving new life and breathe of fresh air to the period piece fantasy film genre. Without question, The Shape of Water is an intricate and beautiful thing that is waiting to be seen, adorn and appreciated.
Night Film Reviews: 9 Out of 10 Stars.
What did you think of The Shape of Water? Flat and boring or extraordinary and unlike anything you’ve ever seen? Who would your Oscar predictions go to in the film? del Toro? Hawkins? Jenkins? Spencer? Was it unlike anything you’ve ever seen, or too much like some of the classic movies you love? Rightful homage, or lingering forger? Leave your thoughts and comments below!