Not one for romance…films. But I do appreciate some unconventional stories about love- even if it is about a mute janitor falling for an aquatic man-fish. Guillermo del Toro- the renowned Mexican filmmaker known for his dark fantasy and Gothic aesthetic (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy, Mimic, Crimson Peak) returns with The Shape of Water. One of the highest-praised films of the season, and recently nominated for seven Golden Globes, The Shape of Water continues the trend in cinematic excellence at the close of this year. As indicative through the artistry in this film, Guillermo del Toro is one of the last truly visionary directors that exist today. In fact, he’s one of the few directors to receive a special exhibit displaying his work. Last year, LACMA opened a successful exhibition showcasing del Toro’s drawings, paintings, and film artifacts that gave us insight into his creative process.
The Shape of Water is no exception to his previous work. With more creative control, del Toro infuses himself into this film, but creates something entirely new. Revisiting his obsession with monsters, del Toro reunites with actor Doug Jones to introduce the mystic Amphibian Man- a god-like creature to 1960’s Baltimore, and to the unsuspecting Elisa. Somehow only Guillermo del Toro can take something strange and make it endearing.
THE SHAPE OF WATER
DIRECTOR: GUILLERMO DEL TORO
WRITERS: GUILLERMO DEL TORO, VANESSA TAYLOR
STARRING: SALLY HAWKINS, OCTAVIA SPENCER, RICHARD JENKINS, MICHAEL SHANNON, DOUG JONES
What does the color Green mean to you? It may mean money, greed, or illness. To some, the meaning is entirely different. When psychology comes into play, Green conveys healing, safety, and life itself. It also can convey compassion, hope, and harmony. The color Green takes prominence in The Shape of Water– displayed prominently in interiors, cars, clothing, and artifacts. This is no accident. What does it tell us about how it is depicted?
The film starts- introducing us to Elisa, a lonely mute woman who works overnights as a janitor at a government laboratory. Elisa lives day to day- going through the same routine. She wakes up in the afternoon, bathes, eats her dinner, and goes to work where she partners with the chatty Zelda. After work, Elisa meets with her friend and neighbor Giles, where they go eat mediocre pie and watch television.
Set in Cold War America, racism and sexism are not front and center in this film, but play in the background- pushing the narrative forward. At this time, paranoia is high and fear of Russian interference looms when the government facility acquires a highly valuable “asset”- the Amphibian Man, a mysterious aquatic humanoid. He’s captured merely to spite the Russians- despite his display of emotions and extraordinary gifts.
Empathetic for his captivity, Elisa takes a liking to the Amphibian Man. She introduces him to sign language and music. Even though they exist and different species, they share the ability to communicate non-verbally. Their bond stems from their mutual joy when they see each other and the comfort each other provides. Their bond is threatened however, when the government wants to destroy the Amphibian Man. Fearing for his safety, Elisa cleverly develops a plan to free her companion in order to save his life, despite the danger to herself- and others.
The Shape of Water is like a dark fairy tale. It ends happily, and has some unforgettable characters that are ingrained into your mind. The difference though from other fairy tales, is that the “monster” is not the one that is the villain. The real monsters are humans, or more specifically human fear and pride.
Thanks for reading,
ADRIANA, THE CINEMA SOLOIST