It’s fair to say I’m enthusiastic about The Shape of Water. This fantastical love story was beautiful and unique.
The thing that impressed me most about Guillermo del Toro’s brilliant The Shape of Water was the stunning look of it: color choices, settings, lighting. The focus on emotions gave it depth and detailed perfection. When they name Oscar candidates for set design, The Shape of Water should be there.
Secondly, I was impressed by the performances. Sally Hawkins as the mute cleaning woman Elisa blew me away in every scene. (Think Oscars again.) She was the moral center of the film. She was the one who saw the humanity in the merman (Doug Jones) and was courageous enough to try to save him.
Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland, the boss, was intense (isn’t he always?) as a racist, sexist, sadistic pig of a man who wanted to cut the amphibian man into parts to keep the Russians from getting him.
The story took place in the 60s at the height of the cold war. Russia and the U.S. were overt enemies. Yet, it was the Russian Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who played a part in helping the merman to safety. He put his own safety in jeopardy to do it.
Elisa’s friend and work mate Zelda was played by Octavia Spencer. She interpreted sign language for Elisa when needed at work, but she looked out for her in many other ways. They were great friends at a time when a white woman and an African American woman might not have been best friends. That distinction bothered neither of them.
Elisa’s other friend Giles was played by Richard Jenkins. They lived in the same apartment building. He was an artist struggling because photography was replacing him at work. He was a quiet, gay man not cut out for daring adventure, but he got himself one because of Elisa.
Giles and Elisa spent their evenings watching TV. They especially loved the musicals and sometimes did a bit of dancing together in a playful way. In her imagination, Elisa wore beautiful gowns and lovely high heels to sing and dance like a movie star on a stage. The merman danced with her.
Elisa, Giles, the merman, even Zelda with her husband at home – they were all deeply alone in the world. A connection, a chance to be understood, was all any of them wanted. For Elisa, that came from a fearsome creature from under the water. A being unlike any other. A being so misunderstood his life was in danger.
There were some laugh out loud bits in the film. (I absolutely loved the corn flakes joke.) There were some touching love scenes. There were some horrifying bits of racism and cruelty. In terms of story, The Shape of Water has everything any good story needs.
There wasn’t a lot of CGI gimmickry in the film. The amphibian man seemed to be mostly a skin of rubber and latex. I’m not sure how they filmed the underwater scenes, but they looked convincing.
I absolutely recommend this enchanting work of art. Go see it.