Who do you ignore? Who are the people that cross your path everyday that you’ve never made eye contact with? Who are the ones you physically see but are emotionally invisible? The Shape of Water is their story.
Here’s How it Shapes Up
Set in the early sixties at the height of the cold war, the government tracks down a humanoid amphibian they put under the control of a cattle prod-wielding government agent, played by Michael Shannon. Elisa, played brilliantly by Sally Hawkins, is a mute who, along with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), cleans the military facility where the creature is studied/tortured.
Elisa and Zelda, a mute and a black person, are marginalized by society, as is Elisa’s neighbor and best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is older, bald, and gay. In 1962 each are each isolated in their own way.
It’s Always The Quiet Ones
Outcasts who find love in each other’s arms is not an original concept. But when the outcasts are a mute and a sea creature, you’re breaking new ground. But this love is traditional, even if it is Elisa who does the wooing. She wins his trust with food and music, and learning how to communicate with each other. He becomes the first person to see her for who she is, instead of who she is not.
When it comes time to rescue him, they use their ignored status to their advantage. And it’s here when Elisa and our favorite amphibian take their relationship to the next level. Yes, that level. She’s totally gonna lose the security deposit on her apartment. But from the smile on her face I’m guessing it was worth it.
In addition to amazing performances, this movie is a masterpiece from all angles. From lighting to set design to script to choreography (yes, choreography!) Guillermo del Toro brings this movie together like a master weaver. He uses institutionalized discrimination as part of the background setting, reminding us it is there without making it a central theme of the film. Instead he makes those disadvantages so central to the DNA of the characters that that they are able to use it against an oppressive society when the time is right.
The central thematic element is, and this shouldn’t be much of a spoiler, water. It gives life. It gives sanctuary. It gives pleasure. It gives us our hero.
It’s also worth commending del Toro for avoiding any impulse to have a big chase scene back to the water. Nothing in this movie is cliché.
In the end, The Shape of Water doesn’t restore your faith in humanity. It gives you hope that something better than humanity, as we know it, exists.
Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
For the shape of water we suggest Stoli Raz and Sprite. It’s a drink that can look invisible but once you try it will make you feel great.