The Shape of Water - 2017
Director(s): Guillermo del Toro
Writer(s): Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor
Cinematography by: Dan Laustsen
Editor(s): Sidney Wolinsky
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg and Doug Jones.
Synopsis: In a 1960s research facility, a mute janitor forms a relationship with an aquatic creature.
While Hollywood or, if you’re reading this in the future, Disney-WORLD, is busy rehashing old fairy tales and giving them a modern twist, Guillermo del Toro is busy creating new fairy tales for our generation and the ones to come. This movie, like his previous fairy tale, 2006’s Pan’s Labyrinth, allows us as audience members to believe in a world in where “monsters” or creatures exists, but always reminding us that the biggest monster is our fellow man.
Huge fair warning: I’m completely in love with everything that was this movie, so this may come across as more of me “gushing” than reviewing but, believe me, it’s a review-ish.
Guillermo del Toro once said: “In fairy tales, monsters exist to be a manifestation of something that we need to understand, not only a problem we need to overcome, but also they need to represent, much like angels represent the beautiful, pure, eternal side of the human spirit, monsters need to represent a more tangible, more mortal side of being human: aging, decay, darkness and so forth.”. del Toro and Vanessa Taylor wrote a “monster” that perfectly reflects the problems that multiple characters need to overcome, including our protagonist Elisa, played perfectly by Sally Hawkins. But the two I want to highlight is Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, and Strickland, played by Michael Shannon.
Giles is an artist living alone with only Elisa to talk to, trying to come back to his life of former glory. He sees himself in the “monster” who was also treated as a god by the natives of the country he was found in and now he is just a lab experiment, hated and cast aside by the world he once loved. Giles and the monster create a beautiful bond that helps him find resolution with his own inner demons. But, every coin has two sides to it and on the other side we have Strickland, a god-fearing man, devoted to the teachings of the bible and to the routines he has built for himself, like washing his hands before peeing. This “monster” represents the destruction of everything he holds true. If we are created in the Lord’s image, this “monster” cannot be one of God’s creatures. If this “monster” turns-out to be a God like the natives claimed he is, then his view of the world and his monotheism go out the window. This conflict and the mirror images many of the characters create with the “monster” is what makes this story incredibly entertaining and complex.
Quick note: This contrast between these characters perfectly plays in to the title of the movie. Just like water, the “monster” takes the shape of whatever you put it into. Made me love the title even more.
del Toro also delivered with his camera work. The movements he employed throughout the entire runtime felt as if we were in the room, floating around the characters, watching their every move. This ghost-like quality the camera had helped the audience navigate this world of fantasy he created for us. What also helps this tone is Alexandre Desplat’s score. The music felt as if I was in a dreamlike state watching the events unfold. Cinematographer Dan Laustsen also shot a visually satisfying movie. Every frame, every set, every moment was dense with color and textures never wasting a single opportunity to build upon this world that, despite it being set in 1960’s USA, felt otherworldly.
Quick note: I don’t envy this year’s Academy Awards. Seems like almost every single cinematographer brought their A game to 2017.
As for the acting, this is one of the best ensemble casts of the year. Everybody played their parts perfectly, never letting their fellow co-star down in a pivotal scene. Octavia Spencer as Zelda was hilarious and continues to prove she is a vastly under-used actor. Michael Stuhlbarg as Dr. Hoffstetler was great as he gave what could’ve been a one-note character a bit more complexity thanks to his facial expressions. Michael Shannon as Strickland was terrifying, he made me uncomfortable as I never knew what he would do next. Richard Jenkins as Giles was heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time, and he deserves all awards that come his way. But, the star of the movie must be Sally Jenkins as Elisa. She plays a mute so she didn’t have the benefit all her co-stars had of delivering powerful written monologues or funny clever jokes. She had to deliver every single thought, emotion and trouble through her facial expressions and body language. Her performance was a throwback to when the talkies hadn’t taken over and every actor had to sell their performance through their face and eyes. She was funny, endearing, quirky and just flat-out easy to route for. I was blown away by her as she has always flown completely under my radar.
Quick note: Doug Jones continues to be del Toro’s MVP. He brings to life every creature or “monster” del Toro has in his head. His work in this movie is just another notch in his career.
The Shape of Water is in my eyes a modern masterpiece. I truly loved it. Fair warning: it may not be for everyone as it has some elements that will test your ability to suspend disbelief. My wife had a hard time connecting with the “monster” and I could see that being a common complaint. Guillermo del Toro continues to prove that he is one of the best writer-directors working today and we are better for it. del Toro is why I love movies.
The Shape of Water is currently playing in theaters. Go watch it.
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