Click here to read my autism lesson on this movie.
Here it is! My absolute favorite movie of 2017! While Star Wars: The Last Jedi comes in close at second, I still had issues about it that grew over time. Yet for The Shape of Water, it’s the opposite: the more I think about it, the more I love it!
Found in the river as a baby—abandoned by her parents, Elisa, a mute, keeps a specific daily routine in her home over Baltimore’s grand Orpheum theater. In the morning, she masturbates in the bath and hard-boils eggs; then she commutes to work, her cap used to cushion her cheek on the bus window, often mesmerized by water droplets dancing across the glass; then over the next eight hours she puts on her janitor apron to swab up a government-funded facility. So sure enough, Elisa finds a ripple to disrupt her calm life once she meets the Amazonian man-shaped fish, essentially The Creature from the Black Lagoon in design, imprisoned in the facility. The two instantly discover the great sense they have in common, since neither one of them can speak.
Even if they lack the decisive intelligence of humans, God’s animals somehow can see your true self better than people, as the anthropomorphic denizen from below does upon meeting Elisa. She shares one of her hardboiled eggs, teaching him to say “egg” in American Sign Language, like the “Project Nim” study at Columbia University. Over time, their nonverbal connection grows into something unimaginably intimate for Elisa’s inner Mary Magdalene.
Director Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth) sustains aquatic turquoise hues to delight his gothic, fantasized 1960s recreation, practically a giant rustic French painting. From the key lime tinted diner to a shiny new teal Cadillac, waves of despair swirl about inside what almost resembles the nearest abandoned cathedral after a flood destroyed its inner form; an immersive feel of swimming through the sets miraculously keeps itself going.
Del Toro commands your thirst without crossing into arthouse cinema mode, he just tells a straightforward story under the necessary creative choices in sound design. The beautiful sounds include the musical score’s orchestrated beauty creeping from beneath, thanks to eight-time Oscar nominee Alexandre Desplat (Argo, The Grand Budapest Hotel). The harsher sounds include the thump-squeak-thump of sex transitioned into the pulse of the facility’s prison chamber run to the same beat, as if lust is the true fuel for the drowned organization.
Everyone in the plotline whirlpool, such as some communists after the new discovery, lives a personal objectional truth about who to worship, with bits of your own identity projected upon every individual on the seafoam tinted screen. Richard Jenkins (The Visitor) portrays Elisa’s besieged artist neighbor like a spirit progressively decaying by the scenery no matter how high he tries to keep it up. Octavia Spencer (The Help, Hidden Figures) likewise highlights her subtle racial empowerment to convey a fear of racist attacks on her work ethic in an all-White facility. Although no one in the talented cast brought out the film’s aura as well as Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine) in the main role, commanding a quiet nature, secretly strong inside despite her weak façade.
While a few smaller actors did fail to leave a durable impression, it barely affected much beyond missed chances. Speaking of missed chances, the government’s involvement in the fishy situation could’ve been tightened up a bit to create deeper political arguments, rather than the shallow Democratic stand the script ends up taking.
Now look back at the big picture, particularly the way it channels old social issues into the US today. A rather impactful detail includes a point when Blacks in the city are refused a seat at public eateries, alongside presumed homosexuals. It reminds about the dark side of the plastered 1950’s American dream all men at the time craved to perfect. The villain in particular follows the universal dream by joyfully shocking the man-shaped thing he claimed as his trophy. According to science, no animals can ever smile or cry, so such a prize ought to be head monkey of the circus put on by US Government. This beast’s resemblance to Jesus Christ, alongside his child’s curiosity, represents Blacks, homosexuals—anyone outside the societal bubble. The real monster isn’t the hideous blue freak, but the bleach-washed success-crazed humans destined for the fate of Jonah.
Therefore, please go hear Fox Searchlight’s tale of the unbelievable romance, one which uses the supposed lies to warn you about the truth.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Adler, Margot. “The Chimp That Learned Sign Language.” National Public Radio. 28 May 2008. Web. <https://www.npr.org/2008/05/28/90516132/the-chimp-that-learned-sign-language>.
Kit, Borys. “How Guillermo del Toro's 'Black Lagoon' Fantasy Inspired 'Shape of Water'.” The Hollywood Reporter. 3 Nov 2017. Web. <https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-guillermo-del-toros-black-lagoon-fantasy-inspired-shape-water-1053206>.
The Shape of Water. Fox Searchlight Pictures, Web. <http://www.foxsearchlight.com/theshapeofwater/>.