Volunteer writer, Andrew Batu, brings us a brilliant review of Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ that won the 2018 oscar for best picture.
‘The Shape of Water’ is a film that could be called many things. In the promotional run-up of the film, it seemed to be a Romeo and Juliet style love story, one of two star-crossed lovers. It also has some of the style of Guillermo del Toro’s action epics he is known for. In my view, however, it is a much simpler film than it appears. At its core, it is a drama, concerning characters who must find their power in a world that has conspired to make them powerless.
The film is set in Cold War America, a time in which tensions between the east and west are reaching boiling point, and covert operations from either side were at their peak. Del Toro also makes us apparent of the social issues of the time, with the civil rights movement being touched on in the film, along with the treatment and acceptance of the gay community. However, while these issues present themselves within the film, it is the characters drive the story. The cast is limited to a handful of characters, but this only adds to the depth that each has on screen. In fact, we see on screen development from all the major characters. And this is real, believable development and not some forced turn of character occurring only because the story needs it to.
The main star of ‘The Shape of Water’ is Sally Hawkins, who plays the mute cleaner Elisa, spending her days hanging out with her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins), or at work with her friend Zelda (Olivia Spencer). Her life is mundane but by no means poor, as she enjoys watching TV, dancing and listening to Zelda gossip. Her life changes dramatically however when the science facility she works at brings in a new ‘asset’. This asset turns out to be a human-looking amphibious creature. While at first, it appears to be a savage beast, Elisa quickly discovers that appearances can be deceiving.
Michael Shannon plays his part brilliantly, portraying the military official Colonel Richard Strickland, a morally repulsive figure who works as the antagonist of the film. While a somewhat unoriginal creation, Shannon manages to convey such a revolting and unlikable character that he draws you in, forcing you to turn your nose in disgust at every sickening action he does.
I found the visuals of this film very vibrant and engaging. Time in the research facility really has a clinical, metallic vibe. And I loved the way the bright neon world of 60’s America was portrayed in this film, as when Elisa leaves her apartment we’re exposed to a beautiful fluorescent world that really stands out in contrast to some of the other grimier parts of the film.
What makes this film great is the struggle that Elisa has in expressing herself in a world not made for her. It becomes apparent very quickly that Elisa is just as capable as anyone else in the film, perhaps more so, and yet due to her muteness, she is not taken seriously by many of the other characters. At points even her friends seem to dismiss her and use her muteness against her. However, throughout the course of the film, you could say Elisa “finds her voice,” resulting in some beautiful scenes in which you can see her developing confidence to the point she can stand up to some of her superiors she was previously terrified of. How Hawkins expresses this transformation without the use of any speech is amazing, at times using only her eyes to express the confidence and resilience that her character develops in the film.
Overall, this is a thriller with a lot of heart. This film shows you that looks can be deceiving and sometimes the people you assume to be weak can actually be stronger than everyone else. While I don’t think that this film is completely flawless, It definitely is a must-see film and is no doubt an instant classic.
Illustration by Angel Chiu