Perhaps M. Night Shyamalan can learn a thing or two from Guillermo del Toro when it comes to writing a script centered around the unnatural and unrealistic and turning it into a metaphorical masterpiece. I honestly intend that as more of a genuine critique than a throwing of shade. I always say that Shyamalan gets so close to finishing the puzzle of making cinema magic, only to realize that there’s a key piece missing on the floor somewhere, but turns it in anyway as complete. Del Toro seems to have found that missing piece, placed it neatly into its nestled crevice and presented a complete job well done with The Shape of Water.
I was apprehensive at first about this movie, being that its premise is way over the top. I mean c’mon…a mute janitor falls in love with an alien creature hidden under wraps in a lab somewhere during the 1960s in the midst of the Cold War. Really?
But then I started thinking and realized there is so much talent surrounding this film, in front of and behind the camera, and I can’t imagine all of them wasting their time on something truly stupid. On top of that. the award nominations keep coming in, so I decided I gotta check this flick out.
I must admit, Del Toro’s film left me presently surprised. The Shape of Water is a really good movie. Like it’s focal creature character, it is not flawless. I found myself predicting a few of the events before they came to fruition in front of me on screen. Nonetheless, the film itself is shot and written beautifully.
The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa, the aforementioned mute janitor who relies on her friends, co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Giles (Richard Jenkins) to communicate on her behalf since the mass number of people don’t understand her sign language. Her obvious flaw is being mute, but the beauty of the film is that it finds a way to turn everyone’s flaws into strengths.
You will see that Zelda obviously has trust issues, particularly in men, and Giles is afraid to express his true self to others and consequently pushes Elisa to accept less in her life as well. His misery loves her company. However, both are extremely loyal, and fight to help Elisa’s cause of saving the creature from death at the hands of both the Russians, as well as American governments – led by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Richard brought the creature to the science lab for observations and wishes to get rid of it once his agendas are met before the Russians can find it, stop him and perhaps conduct studies of their own.
Michael Shannon consistently manages to steal the show in every film he is in. He delivers another Oscar-worthy performance in this film. I’m not sure when it will finally be enough for him to get over the hump in the Academy’s eyes, but in mine, he is long overdue for the honor. Unlike the other mentioned characters, his is one who is unhappy with himself, yet takes it out on his peers in an effort to make them feel weaker. He tries to elevate himself in his own mind to make himself feel better, despite the fact that he knows he is the true monster in his own right. Shannon’s portrayal of Richard is perfect. He makes you hate him, as a true great villain should. He creates a tense environment in every scene and is captivating in doing so.
Portraying a character successfully without lines is almost like playing hockey without skates. It’s an uphill battle, but Sally Hawkins definitely climbs the Matterhorn. Her performance as Elisa is adorable and makes you fall in love with her character. Elisa represents everything that is good in the world. She strives to help someone when they’re wrongfully captured and imprisoned. She sees beyond the bad so that she can uncover the good. She is one half of the weirdest, yet maybe most internally beautiful on-screen couple in quite some time (but yeah, no doubt the weirdest). Her portrayal of Elisa is like the engine that makes this movie ride smoother than Richard’s fresh Cadillac.
As I wrote earlier, del Toro’s script for The Shape of Water was incredibly smart and moving. I would compare it to a shot of good whiskey that goes down easy while the flavor stays on your lips. One line that sticks in my mind comes from Elisa’s sign language. In the midst of an argument between Elisa and Giles regarding her attempted recruitment of his services to help save the creature, Giles tells her he isn’t human in an effort to end the conversation. Elisa responds, “no, but if we don’t help him, what does that make us?” That is powerful, thought provoking stuff right there, folks.
The creature in The Shape of Water represents a metaphor for everyone who is different. Someone is out there who will love you for who you are and will see that through your differences, you can actually make them become stronger, more complete versions of themselves.
Water is the most powerful force on Earth, so I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it’s included in the title of a story intended to move people. The Shape of Water wraps a timely message around a modern Romeo and Juliet romance for the 21st Century open-minded technological era. It’s easy to shut this film out right away if you don’t go into it willing to put the freak show stuff aside and embrace the message. I really liked it, but I wouldn’t say I am absolutely in love with it like others seem to be. With that said, it still is extraordinary, smart and will definitely age well – all of which are traits the Academy traditionally loves.
MATTER RATING: 7.5/10
OSCAR SCALE: 9/10 (Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Production Design, Costume Design, Original Score)
BY: CHRIS GUEST