Movie Review: The Shape of Water

I am very appreciative that my local theater brought this movie to Joplin. The Shape of Water was recently nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. While I typically wait until after the Oscars to watch all of the films in the best picture category, I couldn’t wait to see this one. My sister Linda joined me tonight, to watch this beautiful story unfold.

The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg. The fantasy adventure, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro, carries an R rating, for nudity, violence, sexuality and language, and has a run time of 2 hours and 3 minutes.

Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) works at a government run facility as a cleaning woman. Although she has a good friend in her co-worker, Zelda (Spencer), and a special relationship with her gay artistic neighbor, Giles (Jenkins), most people perceive Elisa to be different…defective.

Elisa does not speak. She never has. Her hearing is perfect, and she is bright, sensitive, hard working. And yet because she lacks a voice, she is often overlooked. Found in a river as a baby, with unusual scars on her neck, Elisa grew up in an orphanage and was given the last name of Esposito, an Italian word signifying abandonment.

She may be silent, but Elisa is eloquent in her expressions and actions. She takes care of her aging neighbor, who is struggling as an artist. They both live in vintage apartments above an old movie theater that is struggling to survive as well. She has caught the unwelcome attention of Colonel Richard Strickland (Shannon), a grasping, career minded military man in charge of the facility and a newly acquired secret “asset”.

Elisa becomes curious about the asset, a man-like creature captured in a river in South America. While he shows aggression toward the Colonel, who tries to control him with an electrical cattle prod, the amphibian man returns Elisa’s curiosity. Charged with keeping the top secret room clean, Elisa pauses each day to share her lunch with her new friend, introducing him to music and sign language.

She discovers an intelligence in the creature, and mutual understanding. Although they are very different from each other, the two have things in common as well. They both love the water, share natural curiosity and creativity, find themselves alone in their uniqueness, and communicate deeply without using words.

When Elisa learns that Colonel Strickland intends to kill the creature and dissect him for the sake of scientific knowledge, she knows she must act quickly to save her caged friend. Gathering her co-worker and neighbor to her as allies, and enlisting the aid of Dr. Hoffstetler (Stuhlbarg), a compassionate scientist who is more than he seems, Elisa concocts an elaborate rescue plan that will save the creature from unnecessary death and give him hope of escaping into the sea.

This was such an enchanting movie. I loved it. As a child, I was unexplainably drawn to monster movies. Thinking about that, as I drove home after the movie, I realized why. It wasn’t because I wanted to be scared. I lived with fear and tended to avoid movies and tv shows that ramped that fear up. No, I was drawn because the monsters were unique, otherworldly, and yet grappling with very human emotions or experiences. They were different, alone, scared, trying to communicate or looking for love, life, and freedom.

Guillermo del Toro understands those characteristics and incorporates them into his monster movies, which is why he is able to create such moving films in this genre. He gets what drives these “monsters”. It’s what drives humans too.

I loved the diversity within this film…that the two main characters conveyed such powerful performances without speaking…and that every character had depths to explore and some had strengths that were hidden until they were called forth.

I am a huge fan of Doug Jones, who covered in costuming and make-up, brought compassion and sensuality to the amphibious creature. Doug often plays characters that require extensive make-up and complex wardrobes. He is currently the alien Saru on Star Trek Discovery. It is amazing what Doug is able to convey, while physically limited by prosthetics and intricate costumes, through nuanced gestures and body language. I feel his portrayal in The Shape of Water deserves a nomination, alongside his colleagues who are nominated.

Doug Jones as Saru in Star Trek Discovery.

Doug Jones and Sally Hawkins.

I am inspired by The Shape of Water. It is a love story, an adult fairy tale, and a well done monster movie, all combined into one poignant film. It teaches us that differences are to be celebrated, and life cherished, and hope championed. It reminds us that people possess depths that aren’t immediately apparent. Time is required to uncover those gifts, time and respect and trust.

I will be cheering for this lovely movie as I watch the Academy Awards in March. I hope it takes home lots of Oscars.