(Featured image credit: http://radiolasithi.gr)
The Shape of Water tells the story of a sea creature that is captured and brought to a top-secret government base in 1960s Cold War America to be tortured and experimented on. A mute janitor called Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, enters the forbidden area and begins to interact with the creature which leads to her forming a unique relationship with it. When the leader of the operation, played by Michael Shannon, suspects that something suspicious is happening, Elisa must do everything she can to protect herself and the creature. Despite the bizarre nature of the plot, The Shape of Water is a brilliant and strangely emotional film.
Every frame is beautifully shot, and the production design is fantastic – especially the lab where the creature is held. The costume design of the creature (played by Doug Jones, who portrayed the creatures in Del Toro’s most famous film, Pan’s Labyrinth) looks impressive too. The entire film is anchored by a beautiful, enchanting musical score. This film can be described as a fairy-tale for adults.
The Shape of Water features a small, but diverse, collection of characters who we get to know surprisingly well considering the film’s 2 hour run time. Elisa is completely mute and so the little talking she does comes from sign language. Sally Hawkins puts in an absolute powerhouse performance, conveying emotions through her facial expressions and body language. She delivers her lines in a subtly moving manner, and if she wasn’t up against Frances McDormand this year, I believe that the Oscar would be hers for the taking. Elisa lives with her friend Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. Although the part was originally written for Ian McKellen, Jenkins does an excellent job portraying a character who acts as Elisa’s voice for a lot of the film. He is incredibly caring and has a beautiful relationship with Elisa, communicating with her in one scene through dance. Elisa’s friend at work, Zelda, also looks after her, often having conversations with Elisa and seeming to know what Elisa’s response would be despite the fact that she is unable to talk. Given that Elisa’s two best friends happen to be a gay man and a black woman, the two most oppressed groups in America during the 60s, it is interesting that these characters essentially act as Elisa’s voice. We see how all three characters are rejected by society, yet do not allow this to affect who they are. It is rewarding to witness Elisa’s development into a strong, independent character by the time the film ends.
In addition to the protagonists the film’s villain, played by Michael Shannon, is very interesting too. Unlike many films nowadays, where the villain can often let the plot down with weak motives and an inability to be intimidating, The Shape of Water boasts one of the best villains I have seen in a while. He is fully developed and has clear motivation for his actions – all he wants to do is his job, of experimenting on the creature, and whilst the audience are never encouraged to sympathise with him, his actions make sense. He is running a top secret government operation at the height of Cold War tension, and simply wants to maintain order. It is interesting to view the plot from his perspective. The film also shows his human side – he has a wife and children and simply wants to do well to provide for them and be a successful father for his children to look up to. Yet, Shannon still manages to be very frightening at times, the intimidating presence that most films lack in a villain nowadays .
The theme of forbidden love is dealt with beautifully and innocently in The Shape of Water. In fact, I believe the title to be referring to the ambiguity of love itself. Like water, love has no set “shape” and as we see in this film, it can exist in the most unlikely of forms. It’s fluid and cannot be defined.
The ending of this film is stunning. It’s very rare that audiences are given such a perfect and satisfying ending, whether predictable or not. The fantastic thing is the amount of theories surrounding the ending and what actually happened. The openness to interpretation of Del Toro’s work is admirable – there are very few true artists of modern cinema out there and he is definitely one of them.
I loved The Shape of Water, and even though it was my second pick for Best Picture (just behind Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) it fully deserves the award. It truly is a modern masterpiece and a film that will be remembered for years to come.