This film is, essentially, a sonnet. A sonnet to love that bursts to life with a breathtaking opening. It’s presented to you with intricate imagery and topped with a poem at the end to nicely complete the fable. ‘The Shape of Water’ is called a fairy tale and from the poster, you can see it certainly looks like one. Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone) was quite obviously inspired by ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon.’ Regardless of what it’s labeled, a love story, a fairy tale, a thriller, it’s hard to really describe it as any one thing in particular. That task seems better left for the individual viewer of this magnificent work of art. At one moment you’ll see it as a thriller where you’re biting your lip, filled with anxieties, another you’ll feel the anguish that makes it a drama but there’s no doubt it’s a brilliant fantasy.
The plot of the story is a woman falling in love with an amphibian. We see beauty in all things. She most certainly does. The movie is an ode to love, for people and for other creatures no matter who or what they are, and that’s the strong central message del Toro makes very clear. That and how important the color green is to him. Everything is green. The start of the film is waterlogged and wonderful and you’ll appreciate how green lends to the temperature of the film as a whole. As we begin the story in the apartment (above a theatre) that belongs to our protagonist, Eliza Esposito (Hawkins), we are swept away to another time and place. Eliza is a perfect damsel in distress. She’s short, mute and low on friends but appreciates everything she has, especially a little alone time in her bathtub where she relieves herself from the tensions of the day.
The year is 1962, right before the death of Kennedy and the death of what people considered to be their hope for their country… did I mention the film gets political at times? Eliza works with Zelda (Spencer) in a secret government laboratory. They’re cleaning women and generally keep to themselves but due to a wrong place, wrong time situation, are one day pulled into something they weren’t expecting. Asked to clean up a bloody mess after Mr. Strickland (Shannon) gets a horrific injury, the women are privy to more information than they care to be. For Zelda, it’s just, ‘do the job, move on and forget it happened.’ For Eliza, very curious by nature, it’s a matter of finding out the ‘why’s’ of the bigger picture. She sees a creature, known as only the asset, wrongly imprisoned and feels sorry for it as it’s tortured by cold, heartless men. When next she sees the creature, not intimidated by it, she gives it part of her lunch. A bonding begins.
The creature is possibly going to be used for space exploration and the lab Eliza works is not the only research facility that wants him. She tells her friend and neighbor Giles, played magnificently by Richard Jenkins, about the creature who is intrigued but when she speaks of a plot to rescue her new charge, he’s more than concerned. Sadly, you’ll grow concerned, too, as the film nears its conclusion. Up to the point where her plot to remove the asset from his imprisonment ends, it’s a well-structured, beautifully formed and stunningly shot film. It’s a fascinatingly violent film with peculiar lusts along with joy and guilt hidden in dark places BUT the end seems rather flat. Be that as it may, don’t be deterred from seeing it.
Afterall, it’s not as if your imagination can’t move beyond what del Toro does on screen and fill in a few blanks… it’s a shame that it must.