The Verse’s Louise Conway tells us what she thought of The Shape of Water (2017).
A dark delight, swimming with cinematic wonderment.
The Shape of Water, the latest work by Guillermo del Toro, is dominating the 90th Academy Awards with 13 nominations and should be reason enough to be excited about this film.
The film is set to a back-drop of the Cold War in 1960s Baltimore. Del Toro has beautifully blended fiction with reality. Elisa (Sally Hawkins) – a mute, kind-hearted woman of routine, with a fondness for eggs, water and masturbation – and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her co-worker and friend, are instructed to clean a room inhabited by an amphibious, demigod creature. Their regular night-shift, cleaning a secret research facility, is irreversibly altered as Elisa develops a sincere all-be-it mystifying relationship with the creature.
As absurd as it sounds, the relationship is tender, sweet and, bizarre as it is, ultimately believable. The film is prominently about what it means to be human, questioning our humanity and what it is to be complete.
Elisa’s character, even mute, carries the film wonderfully and effortlessly. Hawkins’ performance is magnificent and fully engages throughout. As expected from del Toro, the film offers fantastical creatures, yet the monster of this story isn’t covered in make-up and prosthetics. The most monstrous of roles belongs to Michael Shannon’s character.
Again, Doug Jones embodies the whimsy of del Toro’s mystical creatures (having previously played Fauno in Pan’s Labyrinth). The creature is resonant of the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Yet the prominent image of the film, of the creature carrying Julie Adams in its arms. However the prominent image of The Shape of Water is Elisa and the creature in a mutual embrace.
As the tagline suggests, The Shape of Water is ‘a fairy tale for troubled times’. The film doesn’t quite offer the complete scene of escapism often the pinnacle of Hollywood. The film can’t offer a romanticised, care free fairy-tale as we are in troubled times, both in cinema and as an industry and the world as whole. The film does not try to escape the racism, homophobia and prejudice of the 1960s; instead, it shows the importance and possibility of human acceptance.
However, it was the sub-plots where the film’s best moments lay. The greatest successes of the film are the beautifully human relationships, not just between Elisa and the creature, but with Zelda, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her homosexual artist neighbour. The whole film could have played out in Elisa’s enchanting apartment, filled with atmosphere from the cinema below, capturing her entrancing existence.
Aesthetically, The Shape of Water is del Toro’s masterpiece. However it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Pan’s Labyrinth. Nonetheless, it is a brilliant blend of harsh reality and fiction, presented in a truly original and whimsical style.