Guillermo Del Toro’s beautiful creature feature The Shape of Water made a huge splash at the Oscars; dive into this “Best Picture” winner on blu ray.
And authoritarianism of course. But Guillermo del Toro is too clever to just come out and say this; his imagination as a filmmaker is just too big for that.
He has decided to wrap the concept into a movie that has been described by some as Amelie meets Creature from the Black Lagoon.
The comparison is fair, but there is more going on with The Shape of Water than just a few influences.
It’s much more than just a daring theme. And I can’t help but ask myself, why should anything about love be considered daring in 2017? Well, because some people are slow learners.
These are the ones that still exert their hatred, intolerance, and discrimination against anything that is not like them. This movie is for them, and for anyone that has ever been discriminated against for being different in certain social situations. And it’s also for people who are looking for a good love story, of course.
A mute janitor, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), works at a top-secret research facility during the cold war and comes across a captured creature who resembles, you guessed it, Mr. Creature from the Black Lagoon (Doug Jones). To say she discovered a top-secret experiment would be lying. These janitors get to go about their days feather dusting engines to God knows what kind of craft, mopping up around creatures, complaining about home life, and basically acting blasé throughout their day’s work around all the top-secret madness.
All this adds a Fantasy aspect that would be somewhat annoying in the hands of another director, but this is right up Guillermo del Toro’s alley. It’s peppered in with an understated style and never becomes distracting or ridiculous like the Men in Black films can be.
Soon enough, Elisa develops a relationship with the creature, sneaking in snacks, introducing him to music, and showing that not all people inside the military compound are bad. At first, she is the voice of compassion for the story, sympathetic to the abuse of the creature, but that soon turns to love.
The development of the two’s relationship is one of the more touching, not to mention bizarre, aspects of a movie I have seen in years. It unfolds nicely and never cheats on their development. It would have to develop over time, right? I seriously doubt “Love at first sight” would apply in this scenario. Now, I won’t lie. Watching a woman fall in love with a fish man, it’s a bit weird. You can even call it odd. But it’s also beautiful, touching, heartfelt, funny, and above all, romantic. But let’s get back to the plot.
The government has their basic plans for the creature, one which involves dissection. This, of course, is a cliché of an evil government that will dissect any living being they find in these movies, but here it is used to keep true love apart. The cliché is actually quite clever in its use, causing Elisa to have to act. It also represents any father figure, authority figure, or bigot that has discriminated against a taboo couple and wanted the relationship terminated.
True, they are only wanting to study the creature’s lungs, not destroy a relationship, but the stakes are the same. Someone feels superior, and another’s happiness, freedom, or existence are of little to no use to them. And zapping the creature with a cattle prod means nothing. After all, it is just a beast in their eyes.
The one in charge of the creature (and that cattle prod) is Richard Strickland, played by Michael Shannon in a role that he completely eats up. If there is a scene with him in the film, he seems to steal it every time. He represents power tripping, racism, having a God complex, and being a real monster.
He even states to a black woman in the film (Octavia Spencer) that God is not a fish, so why should he have compassion for the creature. He also claims, “God made us in his image. Like me and you. Well, more like me.” He also states that you can tell a lot about a man’s character on whether or not he washes his hands before or after using the restroom. He then washes his hands, uses the urinal, pulls out some candy with his dirty hands, pops one in his mouth, and then contaminates the door handle with his hand as he leaves.
He’d rather wash the filth of the world off his hands before touching himself. Why doesn’t he wash after? Because to hell with people. This scene alone told me everything I needed to know about this guy. It’s the little things.
The rest of The Shape of Water is about the escape of the creature of course; that’s the physical dilemma. The other problems are internal struggles. Characters are challenged and changed. Loyalties are tested. Generals threaten to reduce men’s lives to nothing, people hold secrets, some betray, some grow, some give into their hatred, and some surprise us with risking their lives in their sympathetic understandings — and this is where the film shines.
There are too many turns and surprises for the characters to give them all away, let’s just say the relationships for good story telling and character development are intact, what one character does affects another, and the plotting and pacing were nice; it’s just well-rounded like that. It’s really not about any big or cheap reveals, it’s about development, and it has that throughout: a talent lost in many movies now.
Calling a love amongst a relationship between two mature beings “forbidden” is ridiculous. There are other aspects to The Shape of Water of course, but in the end, that was the theme for me. Maybe some of us need our lessons taught in the form of interesting movies like this. Movies are easy to digest and most people love them. It’s movies like this that can make that lightbulb go off in heads.
Maybe if we can get behind the idea of a woman falling in love with a fish man, then we can see the comparisons in real life and sympathize for real people who have fallen in love, despite their sex, religion, color or creed and has been discriminated against.
In the end, love can concur all, even when it’s this bizarre. Now, where is my copy of Splash?