When I saw that my local film festival was showing The Shape of Water, I knew I was going to see it. Not because it had so much hype around it (which it had), or that it sounded like an awards contender (which it is), but because it had such an out of the box plot that I just had to see it for myself. Set in the 60’s, The Shape of Water is a love story between a woman and an amphibian man.
It doesn’t get weirder than a woman and a fish-alien-man, but the story The Shape of Water tells is still the most ageless story ever told – falling in love. Yes, in the center we have two very different species, and yes, it feels a little strange just to even think about it, but it’s essentially finding that one person that gets you. Who understands you, who sees you as complete despite your flaws. And that’s what love is all about.
Elisa Esposito, played by the wonderful Sally Hawkins, works as a janitor and also happens to be mute. It is clear from the start that she is a little bit different than most, and that’s not because she is not able to express herself with words, but because she is simply different. She lives in a routine that feels comfortable for her, has only a few friends, and dreams of the world under water. But her life suddenly changes, and finds purpose, when she meets this aquatic man, so different from others, yet a little similar to how she sees herself – alone and unable to express himself to others.
The movie never really questions the existence of this amphibian, and never really aims to answer any questions we might have about it. It simply shows us what Elisa sees, and that’s humanity. He may look different, he may act different, he might be able to live both under water and above it, but he unlike everyone else, does not see the flaws in Elisa that others are so eager to point out. That’s why she feels as if he is the only one who sees her as complete.
Michael Shannon plays a villain in this and he does it effortlessly. Richard Jenkins is comforting as Elisa’s neighbor, and Octavia Spencer is great at being the supportive co-worker and friend to Elisa. The cast is small, but it’s filled with strong actresses and actors who know how to hold their own, as does Doug Jones. As an actor, Jones has spent most of his career under heavy makeup, and it shows, because he is somehow able to convey emotion and pain without actually saying anything.
Before I get to the final points, I do want to say that Guillermo del Toro is a very consistent director to me, because he delivers wonderful atmospheres in his movies. While I didn’t necessarily enjoy Pacific Rim (I’m sorry about that), I thought it looked beautiful. I still remember vividly some of the stunning scenes from Crimson Peak, while having somewhat forgotten the plot. And The Shape of Water is no exception visually. It’s mute, and yes, the choice of words is intentional but hear me out. Most of the movie is very one toned, blue/green dominating and the fact that there isn’t many bright colours in the movie, makes it very muted in tone. And it works brilliantly with the theme of the film, it connects the viewer with the main characters through cinematography.
When I sat down to write the review, I didn’t really know how to approach this movie because even though I have only good things to say about it, I didn’t love it. It’s a strange place to be, not really knowing what was wrong with the movie but yet feeling so distant from it a month later. The only thing I could come up with was the fact that this movie fades. It fades from memory because it does tell a very basic story, even though it chooses to tell it with such strange characters. Ultimately, I think I will forget The Shape of Water, because it didn’t have that it-moment that will be embedded in my brain forever. The ending, yes, it was beautiful and weird, but it was exactly what I expected. In other words, while being weird and different, The Shape of Water tells a very safe narrative that is easily forgotten over time.