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Have you ever wondered how love could blossom between a fish man and a human woman? Me neither. But director Guillermo del Toro certainly did, and in doing so he has crafted one of the sweetest, visually stunning, and at times downright disturbing movies of the last decade. This is not just a fantasy for the ages along with The Wizard of Oz or The Lord of the Rings, this is a love story right up there with Casablanca, and Annie Hall.
Sally Hawkins plays Eliza Esposito, a mute woman who lives above a movie theater next to an eccentric, struggling, and closeted gay advertising artist named Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. She works at a government facility as part of the cleaning crew and alongside her is Zelda, played beautifully by Octavia Spencer. She is also part of the help, and one day, while mopping the laboratory, a top-secret asset is delivered by Colonel Richard Strickland, masterfully portrayed by Michael Shannon. Eliza curiously discovers that the asset is a strange creature discovered in South America and brought over for tests. She is further intrigued when the creature attacks Colonel Strickland leaving him wounded, and she has to clean the bloody mess left behind.
Many events happen in between that will simply give too much away. In short, Eliza figures out that the creature, a humanoid/fish hybrid, can communicate with her, learn, and later on, love. She overhears Strickland talking to a general that they must kill the creature and take it apart to find out how it works. At the same time, Russian spies have taken an interest in this creature as the film is set in the late 1960s during the Cold War.
The film is not only a love story between two kindred souls, but is also about change, and fearing what we don't understand. The film displays the racism that still lurks underneath as the Civil Rights movement begins, and as mentioned earlier, Giles, Eliza's trusty neighbor, has an infatuation for a pie diner clerk but struggles to keep his feelings inside of him for fear of the backlash he would receive in a less accepting era. The film is showing us that the world is changing. The age of the machismo, bible-fearing patriotic man, which is represented in the psychotic Colonel Strickland can't comprehend what is happening all around him, and this creature embodies that change, it challenges him and Strickland will do anything to preserve the world he knows and is trying to hang on to.
Eliza is the only one who can see past what the creature looks like, and in the process, she finds everything that she needs and the love she's been craving. She decides to save him and set him free, convincing Giles and Zelda to aid her in her quest.
The Shape of Water is wonderous and imaginative. Guillermo del Toro crafts a fantasy world out of Baltimore with rich color and fascinating characters. The film is also a love-letter to the classic films of Hollywood. Now, I know what you're thinking, "Oh no. Not another one." Don't worry, I don't mean the film is an homage to Hollywood like La La Land or The Artist. I am referring to the classic cinematic fantasy one used to see year after year during the Golden Age of cinema, when it was about crafting beautifully told stories rather than creating the forgettable blockbuster.
It is a shame this film isn't playing in more theaters and in larger screens. Movies like Justice League and the most recent Star Wars film should be taking back seat to The Shape of Water, not the other way around. We need more films that spark the imagination and speak to our souls. More films that make us feel alive. The Shape of Water will put a smile on your face and it'll stay there all the way to the very end.
nan4wrtng from Riverside, CA on December 29, 2017:
I love your reviews and how you capture the essence of the story. It definitely left me wanting to see this movie.