Directed by Guillermo del Toro (2017)
by Rosalie Kicks, Old Sport
The Shape of Water may be perceived as a fairy tale to some. But for me, the story and themes in which it presents seem all too real for it to be considered one.
A person does not realize they are different until they are told. In most situations, the people that bring us into this world, distinguish what is right from wrong. They point out “differences” amongst others to us, calling them out, in an attempt to mold us into the person we should be. For some, this information impacts them so greatly that they are afraid to ever truly be themselves. I remember the first time I felt different. It was second grade. I handed in my math test paper, and it was sopping wet. My teacher asked, “What did you do to this paper? Did you spill something, why is it all wet?!” I was confused, didn’t everyone’s hands get sweaty when they were nervous? Her reaction made me feel like I was some sort of freak. This moment informed me that I was “different."
Through my teenage years, the sweating got even worse. This spiraled into insane outlandish thoughts that would circle around in my head such as me thinking that no one would ever want to hold my fish hand and therefore would be destined to be alone. Listen, I watched enough Back to The Future to know, that if you can’t hold hands, you can’t dance, and if you can’t dance, you can’t kiss and if you can’t kiss you can’t fall in love…it was that simple. Of course, all of this proved to be wrong. It is indeed true, that creatures can find love. You eventually meet individuals who take the time to understand your differences. You meet human beings who are not afraid of others who are “different." Due to my experience of feeling “different” I see nothing wrong with a lady falling in love with a fish.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) lives above a movie house, alone and succumbed to a meticulous routine that is moderated by a kitchen egg timer. Each moment in her life is planned right down to the time she spends masturbating. However, despite her greatest efforts, she still somehow manages to be late for her cleaning job at a top-secret government facility every day. Her routine and her mannerisms signify a person who is alone. A person who doesn’t have anything else in her life but repetition.
Being a mute since birth, Elisa views herself as an outcast living within in a society that will never recognize or understand her. As the story unfolds, it is discovered that many of the characters share this same sentiment. In particular her two closest friends; her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins) and coworker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer). It is with Zelda that Elisa first discovers the creature, often referred to as “the asset," shortly after he arrives at the facility. They are both assigned clean-up duty of the room in which the creature is being held and are given strict orders of the project’s secrecy.
Elisa instantaneously becomes entranced by the creature. The relationship between Elisa and the creature is the heart of the story and throughout this tale, the theme is always present: Love. Love has no shape, love is simply love. The film does a wonderful job of showing that we all truly want the same thing in life: to be accepted, to be loved. Throughout the story, we are shown that this notion is, unfortunately for many, hard to achieve due to the fear others possess. The fear of what is different, leading to hatred and ultimately revealing the scariest monster of all: Man.
Several of the characters in this story face obstacles in their daily lives due to being perceived by others as different. Elisa is a mute. Zelda is black. Elisa’s neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins) is gay. Each one of these characters faces rejection, simply out of fear.
Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has a pure hatred for anyone different. This character is the epitome of post-1950s American boy: a closed-minded, bigoted, American flag-waving, Cadillac-driving ASS. No need to say it, but Michael Shannon showed up to the film set ready to make the audience despise him and this mission was accomplished. During the film, we pay witness to Strickland conducting numerous vile acts which include relentlessly torturing the creature.
When Elisa becomes aware of Strickland’s plan to harm the creature, she starts to devise a plan to break him out. Leading up to this, there are many wonderful scenes between Elisa and the creature that I don’t want to spoil for you. However, my favorite is probably when she brings in the records for him to listen to during her lunch break. I loved watching the two of them fall in love. Many of their scenes were reminiscent of a silent film, due to their inability to speak.
It has been a long time since I was completely enamored with a film. One could even say that I am head over heels in love with Guillermo del Toro’s latest picture. I’ve seen the movie twice and am already plotting my third viewing. I will wait though. The theater needs to be very dark, silent. I want to be swallowed whole by this film. It causes so many emotions to run wild inside me and each viewing I’ve become utterly lost within the world, noticing something I hadn’t previously. The film seems to have found a way to capture so many things that are meaningful to me. It pays ode to classic Hollywood films through Elisa’s love of old song and dance movies. It tells a love story of a fish-person reminiscent of my favorite Universal monster. However, my love for this film is perpetuated even more by the mystical color scheme consisting of greenish-blue hues (my favorite color is: aqua) and the beautiful imagery that, at times, seems to have been painted on the screen. The set design, the costumes, and cinematography are the reasons movies are meant to be seen in a cinema. All of this wrapped up in a magnificent story that is difficult to shake.
This film is a reminder that, for many, acceptance is not always attainable and that love may never be a possibility. Hopefully, after watching this film, people will walk away realizing that there is no need to be afraid of something that is different from them. There is no right way to love, the creature can get the girl, for love truly has a no shape.
*Sidenote: The first time I viewed The Shape of Water, I was at TIFF in the same room as Michael F’n Shannon. This caused me to die in the Elgin Theatre. Therefore, this review was actually written by the ghost of Old Sport.