Nerd Caliber
Nerd Lifestyle Magazine


TV/Movies & Music

December 9, 2017

The Shape of Water Will Fill Your Hearts and Minds

shape-of-water-feature

The tagline for Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is “A Fairy Tale for Troubled Times.” It’s a clever phrase whose double meaning is quite apt. Set in the incredibly troubled Cold War era of 1962, its depiction of racism, sexual harassment and xenophobia is every bit as relevant in 2017. It’s at once heartwarming and heart-wrenching, a dreamy love story wrapped around a cautionary tale of Cold War paranoia. It’s a rare combination of delightfully fantastical and deadly serious.

But most of all, The Shape of Water is a love letter to both Golden Age Hollywood and classic Universal horror movies. Del Toro’s reverence for the witty romance of a Hepburn and Tracy movie, the wry absurdity of Dr. Strangelove, and the creature design of Hammer Horror monsters suffuses every scene. The result is a modern movie that feels as familiar as your favorite classics.

The plot is straightforward, reminiscent of Splash in its broad strokes. The main story arcs are familiar: girl meets boy; obsessive government agent goes around the bend; valiant best friend rises to the occasion. In spite of, or perhaps because of, that familiarity, The Shape of Water is original and fresh. It succeeds by telling old stories in compelling ways, by making us care about the characters, and by holding a mirror to society’s failings without lecturing.

Deep in a U.S. government lab, lonely, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) cleans bathrooms and scrubs floors. She and her friend/coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) accidentally discover the lab’s latest acquisition, an amphibious humanoid referred to only as The Asset (Doug Jones). She recognizes in him the same isolation and loneliness caused be their inability to speak, and they form a deep connection. When she discovers that cocky, paranoid G-man Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) is torturing The Asset and worse, she enlists her only other friend, painter Giles (Richard Jenkins) in a desperate rescue plan.

Cast and acted superbly
Sally Hawkins (
Godzilla) is ethereal and radiant as Elisa, whether she’s dancing or cleaning bathrooms. She has the same sparkle in her eye and hint of manic pixie dream girl as Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly. She conveys a stunning range of emotion through facial expression, sign language and sheer physicality. Her mix of self-sufficiency and desperate longing is plaintive and appealing. Del Toro said he wrote the part expressly for Hawkins, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Elisa.

Doug Jones (Hellboy) is incredible as The Asset/Amphibian Man. His almost purely physical acting is brilliant and effective, and above all subtle. Working in a full-body latex suit and prosthetics, he conveys deep poignancy, pitiable without being pitiful. The creature design carries the same visual DNA as the Creature from the Black Lagoon, updated with modern costuming techniques and CGI. His eyes and head fins, his back spines, are all wonderfully expressive.

Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures) is as delightful as ever. She brings her usual mix of honey and vinegar; strong-willed, fiercely loyal, and giving as good as she gets. She elevates her best-friend/sidekick role with grace and humor. She’s indomitable. Michael Shannon (Man of Steel) has made a career playing unhinged, rage-filled monsters. His cocky cold warrior Richard Strickland, hell-bent on using The Asset in the space race against the Soviets, is creepier than most, though it feels calculated and too-deliberate at times. Oddly, one of his most genuine moments is when his barely-contained fury is unleashed for a split second. He’s terrifying.

Del Toro subtly explores how we see each other, and The Other. Shannon’s Strickland is only able to see The Asset as a dumb animal to be exploited, its human form a mere coincidence. By contrast, Elisa realizes he can communicate and learn, that he’s a sentient being who, like her, can love and yearn.

With two non-verbal leads, Del Toro cleverly gives most of the spoken dialog to characters who, in 1960s America, were frequently voiceless: a working-class black woman and a closeted gay man. The casual and overt racism and homophobia they deal with are pointed reminders that people of color and LGBT people have come a long way but still struggle with being marginalized and worse.

Not a Hellboy movie
It’s worth mentioning that, while
The Shape of Water is written and directed by Guillermo del Toro and stars Doug Jones as an amphibian man, it has no connection to Hellboy. Please don’t let that stop you from seeing it. It’s one of del Toro’s best movies. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, it intentionally blurs and obscures the lines between reality and imagination, full of fable and allegory, imagination and imagery, alienation and loneliness, love and loss and friendship.

I’ve lost count of the conversations about how too many movies are remakes, sequels and prequels, and hoping for something original and unique. The Shape of Water is that and more; it’s original and familiar, charming and well-acted, visually captivating and full of heart. Plus, it’s got Soviet spies, an unhinged Michael Shannon, a touching love story, and the most delightfully absurd dance sequence in recent memory. Show some love to a darkly beautiful love story and see The Shape of Water while it’s in the theater. You’ll still have plenty of time to see The Last Jedi two or eight times.

Ephemera:

  • The R-rating is due to some full frontal nudity and discreet sexual content. It fits the characters without being prurient or gratuitous, but it’s probably not appropriate for younger viewers.
  • Check out some of the amazing concept art online, as well as the stories how relentless Doug Jones is while in a full-body latex suit.
  • There must have been some dust in the theater that made my eyes water mysteriously during several scenes.

The Shape of Water (Fox Searchlight Pictures; rated R): A-

 



About the Author

Gregg "Wonderllama" Snider





 
 

 
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