(5 / 5)
The Shape of Water’s greatest accomplishment, beyond getting made, surpassing looking as great as it does on a mere nineteen and a half million dollar budget, exceeding it’s relevant themes of acceptance in this troubled time is it’s effectiveness in executing it’s truly bizarre premise that could so easily be ridiculous or plain weird. It most certainly succeeds in the other categories but the fact that it made a concept that if it was written down or told to you, you’d probably have to hold back a smile or may think about hitting the panic button.
Guillermo Del Toro has proven himself to be one of the great living filmmakers. His works are unique in concept, meticulously thought out and lovingly brought to life which makes all have elements of, if not entirely, masterpieces. What he does here is craft an adult fairy-tale by staying true to who he is and at the same time bravely treading unfamiliar ground.
The tale begins long ago in a place far far away (at least to some), the 1960’s in Baltimore. We see a room submerged in water and a voice tells us that they’re not even quite sure how to go about telling this story, seems appropriate. In the room floats a sleeping woman that wakes from her dream, she is Eliza Esponito, she is a cleaning woman in a government facility and is mute. She enjoys movies, music and lives her hum-drum life opposite her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) one day after another, until…
A water filled tank is wheeled into the facility, the water shifts and a noise can be heard from it, Eliza taps the glass and a webbed, clawed hand reaches out. What they have in there is a creature from the Amazon that is a hybrid of man and aqua creature. It was a struggle for Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) to get it there and he takes a noticeable bit of joy in taking a cattle prod to it. Eliza’s curiosity gets the better of her and she sees the specimen in it’s room. Where some would stay away or cower she offers it a boiled egg and when it roars she stays and looks at it directly.
Sally Hawkins has to be mute for the entirety of the movie, she does sign language which is accompanied with subtitles and sometimes has someone next to her to speak out what she’s signing. But the truest communication comes from her. Words couldnt due justice to the emotion she is able to convey through her eyes, a twitch/raising of the eyebrows and the un-comfort in the way she hides away. It is the truest mastery of the art of acting to convey all of the emotions her character goes through from fear, to humorous, to her heart breaking in-front of us.
The amphibian creature is one of the great monster creations that has ever been in a movie. It’s design is familiar if you’ve seen Creature From The Black Lagoon, or even Abe Sapien from Del Toro’s Hellboy, a humanoid with webbed joints and fins, but the detail that has gone into the painting and sculpture of it distinguishes it and elevates it to a masterpiece of a character. These days it would probably be an entirely C.G.I. but this is a practical creation of makeup and prosthetic’s (with a little C.G.I. to help). However, design and makeup can only take you so far, what truly brings it to life is the man underneath it all. Doug Jones has built his career on being under makeup and embodying all kinds of creatures. With this creature he has to be a curious child, a sad victim and a macho leading man. This marks the sixth time he has collaborate with Del Toro on a project and they are clearly one of the great actor director pairings.
Shannon is here as the tall, white, chiseled American man. If he was playing this role during the time it is based he would undoubtedly be the lead. Saving the poor helpless woman from the terrifying foreign creature and serving as the ideal American specimen. However that idol was built on a lot a racism and narrow-minded Christian ideals of the time. So he is an exaggeration, though probably pretty accurate representation of what such a man would be like, racist, misogynistic and a narcissist to boot. He is the most absolutely detestable and frightening villain since Del Toro’s Captain Vidal in Pans Labyrinth.
Now for the part where it certainly becomes unconventional, the two begin to fall in love. Yes, most certainly a case of Beauty & The Beast. Unless every facet of the movie was on board and sincere to the premise then this would topple quickly and might just be regarded as one of the best shot absurd comedies. But through interactions and gestures we see two beings that are hated or unwanted from the world they find themselves in and by being together find they’re complete. The other characters certainly make a few moments about how this isn’t exactly normal, but when they see genuine love, who are they to deny it.
Alexandre Desplat composes a sweet, gracefully score that is infused in classic love songs of the time period. It is a warm score that played for that special someone that when you dance together, only the two of you work in that way. Also throughout are a few older gems that perfectly contextualize the theme and relationship.
Dividing the two perspectives are the two main colors of the movie, teal and red. Teal is coated throughout the facility and the cars and other pieces that are meant to represent the modern world, it is a new age and everyone is going crazy about the future. Red is used for romanticism and of course love. Like the clothes Eliza wears when she is so happy to be with the one that makes her feel complete, or the seats of the movie theater, a place she loves to go. Along with the rest are a plenty of other rich colors like amber, deep browns, cream and a few true blacks for contrast to make the image pop.
This, like La La Land and Baby Driver before it has love at it’s center. They area all movies that are about and were created through love. Movies that tell their tales about the pursuit and power of the greatest emotion we have and the three creators behind it that are so in love with movies themselves that pay homage to others that have inspired them but also make something entirely their own.
In the nineteen sixties in America they were all ready to head to that bright future, now we are living in it and an artist creates a work that shows the flaws in the past that at the same time highlight struggles we are dealing with now and has made something for all time. At it’s center is a tale about looking on something that others might cower at or hate but seeing the beauty and together love can overcome anything.