On paper, the story of The Shape of Water would look like a really difficult idea to convince the viewer. I would say The Shape of Water is a great example of how a fine enough story can be elevated to a fabulous movie by sheer directorial quality. This beauty and the beast concept get almost all its pros from the fabulous making of Guillermo del Toro. From the wonderful visuals to catchy background scores del Toro almost deceives us from looking at the logic of the proceedings and indulges us in the magic of an uncanny romance.
Elisa Esposito is a mute and she works as a janitor in an American secret facility during the times of cold war. The facility gets a highly confidential aquatic creature which seems to have God like abilities but they don’t want it to go to the hands of the Russians. So Colonel Richard Strickland who is in charge of the asset is constantly torturing it to look at various possibilities. Elisa who got to get closer to the creature eventually wins its love and the movie shows us this bond and how they survive the mighty obstacle of a government run system against them.
Like I said in the beginning, the story doesn’t feel like a classic in papers as the level of explanation isn’t that great. But it is del Toro’s treatment and the various layers of this movie beyond the romance that makes the experience intriguing. The narrative at times goes for an open ended nature which in my opinion was a smart move to a fantasy film like this. It gives you a space to think about a series of permutations and combinations, which eventually would enhance the life of those characters even after you finish the film. The beautifully litten visuals and the scores that gives the romance a poetic feel are the finest tools Guillermo del Toro uses to convince us.
Sally Hawkins is brilliant as the mute girl Elisa. Through her sparkling eyes she conveys the affection, determination and the boldness effortlessly. Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spenser also shine as the only friends of Elisa. Michael Shannon has delivered a performance that justifies the kind of vision the movie has for a character like Strickland. Equally good was Michael Stuhlbarg who carried the dichotomy of a scientist spy neatly.
Guillermo del Toro’s love towards stories that sort of root for the supposedly beasty characters, by poking the judgmental nature of humans and making them the antagonist continues here as well. This romance within the fantasy story sort of reminded me the way Ridley Scott and Denis Villeneuve managed to achieve rooted stories in the blade runner movies. Like I said, it is almost in the magical realism zone as the film is driven by the love of the similarly limited souls. Del Toro’s craft as a maker is visible in the way he uses visuals to keep us excited about the story. Visuals are spectacular, the music is unforgettable and the production design is also meticulous.
Even after being a simple fantasy story, there are layers to this script that subtly mentions certain emotions. And just the fact that del Toro was able to elevate an okay plot into a memorable cinema with visual beauty and characters with clarity makes it a unique experience.
Just the fact that del Toro was able to elevate an okay plot into a memorable cinema with visual beauty and characters with clarity makes The Shape of Water a unique experience.