Guillermo del Toro is the kind of director that can bring the most strange and implausible scenarios to life with such detail and beauty that we wholeheartedly believe in them. He is the sort of visionary that can manipulate our suspension of disbelief perfectly for his ideas. In The Shape of Water, he has created a story where a mute woman falls in love with an amphibious creature and against all odds, tries to save him from his captors. Saying the premise out loud can sound silly, but seeing it, I fell for it, hook, line and sinker.
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a night shift custodian at a government facility in the 1950s. When a new, highly sensitive asset arrives, it fascinates her. It’s endearing watching her spend her lunch break at the edge of the creature’s tank, sharing her hard boiled eggs with him and even bringing her record player to bring him music. He responds with a simple, animalistic charm that grows on us, as it does on Elisa.
However, it is not all picnics and jazz in the creature’s tank room. Some of the men in charge of the creature are cruel, especially the power-bent Strickland (Michael Shannon), who seems to be the embodiment of white, male aggression and arrogance. He becomes a villain we love to hate but can also genuinely fear. He tortures the poor creature repeatedly with a cattle prod, especially after an incident where the creature bit off two of his fingers.
The film quickly turns into a collaboration of underdogs against Strickland and those who want the amphibious man destroyed. We have Elisa, a mute woman desperate to save her new friend. She enlists the help of her friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), a homosexual commercial artist who longs for his youth. Elisa’s friend and witty co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) accidentally gets caught up in the mess. And they also find an unlikely alliance from one of the scientists studying the amphibious man. These likable and diverse characters shape the film perfectly. I especially love how due to the main characters being mute, Zelda and Giles are given a step up to do the majority of the dialogue in a time where they’re voices are more likely to be silenced.
The Shape of Water has racked up an impressive thirteen Oscar nominations, including Best Picture. Guillermo del Toro has earned his first nomination for best director, a well overdue in my opinion. Sally Hawkins is nominated for lead actress. Octavia Spencer earned her third nomination for supporting actress. Richard Jenkins has earned his second Oscar nomination, this time for supporting actor. The film is also nominated for original screenplay, cinematography, costume design, sound editing, sound mixing, film editing and production design. I seriously doubt this film will go home empty handed.
I will admit that I saw a few major plot points and surprises coming, but it did not detract from my enjoyment of the film. The way del Toro plants hints along the way, like a quick wink of the eye, I don’t think he minds us suspecting a few things if we can pick them up. But I don’t dare spoil anything here.
Overall, The Shape of Water is a wonderful, beautiful and smart film that gladly invites us into del Toro’s fascinating imagination. Visually, it’s lovely and another feat for del Toro and his team. The array of acting talent is superb and matches the great writing. If you’re skeptical if you could ever lose yourself in a love story between a mute woman and something that looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon, you might just be in for a big surprise.
“Unable to perceive the shape of You, I find You all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with Your love, It humbles my heart, For You are everywhere.”