In a captivating and romantic fantasy, Guillermo Del Toro shows us the importance of the differences within ourselves and how those differences can lead to finding meaning, happiness and love. Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute janitor working at a research facility that hosts a human-like amphibian creature. She gets to know the creature and in doing so, a connection sparks. They are both looking for companionship, but neither of them can verbally express themselves. Elisa teaches the creature using sign language and ends up falling in love with it, leading her to organize a rescue mission after learning about the organization’s sinister plans for the creature.
The main theme of this film is diversity. In addition to Elisa, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), an African American woman working with Elisa at the facility, struggles with being African American, especially since this film takes place in the 1960s. Elisa’s neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) is attracted to the man he frequently sees at the pie shop, but struggles with his sexuality. Then, of course there is the amphibian man who, in the sense that he is an amphibian creature, is very much unlike the other characters. However, his differences match his similarities as he is also very human-like, intelligent, and most importantly, he can feel love. For this reason, his relationship with Elisa is even more realistic and human-like than many other romance films that solely involve human beings.
The performances in this film stand out incredibly. Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins all received Golden Globes nominations (and rightfully so) and will hopefully receive Oscar nominations when the time comes. Sally Hawkins as Elisa is extraordinary. She touches the viewers while not saying a single word. As a result of her performance, her relationship with the creature gives us so much more emotion than expected and makes us feel this sense of wonder and romance that we might not even get with characters that can speak.
Michael Shannon is of course brilliant as well, even though his character doesn’t have many layers. Shannon plays Richard, the villain of the story who is behind the idea of dissecting the creature to investigate its biology. Although, Richard’s actions seem to come from his sinisterism, rather than an interest in science. Through Shannon’s performance, he never tells us to sympathize with his character, and acts as the main antagonist of the film, and does so wonderfully.
The creature is played by Doug Jones, the man who frequently collaborates with Del Toro, mostly playing his fantastical creatures. Most notably, he is both the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. Jones’s suit in The Shape of Water is stunningly well designed, making you think you are looking at an actual mermaid man. Del Toro’s genius design of the creature came most notably from the old monster flick, The Creature from the Black Lagoon, the 1954 horror flick about a strange amphibian monster. Though the look of the creature was influenced by this, the story as a whole is as original as Del Toro’s other masterpieces.
The Shape of Water is beautiful both aesthetically, and emotionally. The set design, costumes, and musical score make the film not only an entertaining and romantic fantasy, but also a beautiful piece of art. This film also constantly homages classic and silent cinema, giving movie buffs even more of a reason to see the film.
Rated R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language