The Shape of Water
The Shape of Water: A Cinema So Immersive, It’ll Make You Fall in Love
Movie Review by Trijai Nerthi (Rocheston Certified Movie Critic)
Humans are a funny species. Why? Because every time they don’t understand something, they deem it to be bad. Director Guillermo Del Toro’s Shape Of Water is predominantly based on this theme. When Colonel Richard Strickland discovers an amphibian man in the waters of Amazon, he captures him and transports him to the Occam aerospace research facility in Baltimore amidst the cold war in 1962.
As Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) studies the mysterious creature in an Aqua jail, Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) makes it his mission to torment him with an electric cattle prod. On one such eventful day, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a janitor is summoned to clean the bloodshed near the Aqua-jail. At her very first encounter, she falls in love with the Amphibian Man. She even starts to communicate with him. But matters get complicated when the officials decide to execute the creature. As time runs out, whether or not Elisa manages to save her beloved Amphi-man forms the crux of the story.
Director Guillermo Del Toro takes a plot that appears tricky on paper and weaves it into a beautiful love story. The core of the film is re-shaped from the Beauty and the Beast idea, but it’s unique and uninhibited narration helps the film shed any notions of a fairy-tale. At first, you will wonder if such boundless love can ever exist. But as time goes on, the story will pull you into its world and make you swoon with its non-judgmental, unconditional and simply passionate narration.
On paper, the logline for The Shape Of Water sounds ridiculous yet intriguing. Dealing with such an idea can be incredibly tricky. If the writer makes one wrong move, what should’ve been a compassionate tale could’ve soon become icky and gross.
A woman falling in love with a beast appears harmless and unconditional even, when presented in the form of an animation. But imagine the hoops one has to hop through in order for this unusual couple to break through the walls of your heart. Director Guillermo does this effortlessly, not one scene makes you frown. Not for a second do you question their intentions. As Elisa finds herself falling in love with the creature, her feelings and thoughts resonate with you. Towards the end, you desperately want them to have their happy ending.
In a way, The Shape of Water has its own message to deliver. It demands your attention and insists that you never again dismiss something you don’t fully understand. Instead of covering up your scars, it makes you want to flaunt them as signs of courage. But most of all it convinces you that love, truly knows no bounds.
Do you remember those lines from Notting Hill? That moment where Julia Roberts’ character says “I’m just a girl, standing in front of a boy, asking him to love her.” In a way, everything that happens in The Shape Of Water will remind you of this scene. In that film, Anna Scott (Julia Roberts) uttered these lines to bridge the gap between their two entirely different worlds. Here, Elisa finds no bridge; she jumps in head first and courts the amphibian man with the kindness and understanding he has never received from humans so far.
Even if you dig deep into the technicalities of The Shape of Water, it is nearly perfect. Take its system of establishing ‘Setups’ and ‘Payoffs’ for instance. In the beginning you assume that the scars on Elisa’s neck are the reason for her being mute. But in the end, those very scars transform into gills, reuniting her with her one true love. Such extensive detailing goes behind the tale for it to appear convincing to you. For a tale this unusual to strike a chord with the audience, the writer’s clarity should be spotless. So, just for achieving this, Guillermo Del Toro should be applauded.
As Elisa Esposito, Sally Hawkins is a breath of fresh air. She delivers a performance that is absolutely graceful and fascinating. She is especially at her best in the scene where she realizes that her amphibian man actually likes eggs. From brimming excitement to the fear of losing her love, Hawkins’ vibrant palette of emotions works wonders on her character’s spirit. Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins deliver equally stunning performances as well. In one scene, Jenkins returns home with a broken-heart and meets with the realization that he must help Hawkins save her beloved. This scene is truly beautiful.
As Colonel Strickland, Michael Shannon definitely deserves a special mention. As far as ruthless villains go, his depiction of Strickland takes the cake. As you travel through the film, you will wish he dropped dead; that’s the level of realism Shannon brings to the picture.
The Mise-en-scene of The Shape Of Water couldn’t be more perfect. Together, cinematographer Dan Laustsen, Art Director Nigel Churcher and Production Designer Paul D. Austerberry bring to life tremendous visual poetry. The blue hues go hand in hand with the surroundings of Elisa’s humble apartment. The choreography and visuals of the black and white song pays a subtle and nostalgic ode to the 60’s. Even the periodical recreation is spotless. Together, these technicians prove to be the backbone behind such a distinctive vision.
On the whole, The Shape Of Water is art in its purest form. It’s the kind of immersive cinema that will appeal to audiences from all walks of life.