A Beautifully Dark & Modern Fairy Tale | Review of ‘The Shape of Water’


By Cynthia Ayala

The Shape of Water starring Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg & Octavia Spencer
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Image Credit: IMDB

“At a top-secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature that is being held in captivity.” —IMDB

Simply a beautiful and moving film. The Shape of Water is a piece of film worthy of it is numerous Oscar nominations because it is a beautiful film that uses language and body language in moving ways to reflect emotion and self-awareness.

On the surface, it is not a film one would expect to be so beautiful, but the way the movie starts off, with “once upon a time,” it affects the audience And the way the story evolves. Fairy tales themselves are quite gruesome before they become Disneyfied. Moreover, that is part of the beauty of the film; the coldness gives rise to such warmth in the movie and love and emotion, which is what makes the film so spectacular.

The film follows a mute janitor, Elisa Esposito (Hawkins), during 1962 as she goes day after day to her job at a high-security government laboratory where an amphibious creature is brought in. Much like with Hawkin’s character, the creature is unable to communicate with his captors. Moreover, through this shared mutism they bond together becoming friends in the cold world in which they both reside. To her, this connection means so much because her mutism makes people regard her as something less than human. This new connection allows her to move beyond that and find a sense of self and wholeness within this relationship. Moreover, that is the focus of the film: identity and self-love. This film has uses language and scene structure to attack bigotry, hatred, and abuse. The creature is so reminiscent of the creature from the black lagoon, which is was Guillermo del Toro was going for, and while not human, the humans in the film are the real monsters. Specifically, Colonel Richard Strickland (Shannon) who not only tortures the creature but who also taunts Elisa (Hawkins), joyfully seeking to destroy all that is good in the world for his own sense of glory. He is a sad character but not a character one would feel sympathy for. He is sad in the sense that his identity stems from overpowering others. That is just an unfortunate aspect because it shows that he has no sense of self he has no sense of self-worth within himself. His worth depends on what others demand of him.

That is part of the beauty in the film, and why it can hold the title of fairy tale because it has morals, it has lessons, it has charm and goodness winning in the end, offering viewers a happily ever after.

Moreover, the story is not all that’s great about this film, but that cinematography is just beautiful. It is elegant, it moves gracefully from scene to scene and develops these characters quite masterfully. The scene structure takes us through the lives of these characters and helps us get to know them and see the beauty in the world around all that hate and angry bluster. This film highlights that love of ones’ self is just as important as loving others and seeing them, really seeing them. That is what makes this film truly beautiful. (★★★★ | A+)

— Film Credits —

Directed by Guillermo del Toro

Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor

Story by Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg & Octavia Spencer

Rating | Length | Genre: R | 2h 3min | AdventureDramaFantasy

Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

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