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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz

The Shape Of Water

Absolutely Perfect


Guillermo Del Toro’s, The Shape Of Water is my all time favorite movie. I've seen it so many times I can't keep count anymore. Every time I see it, I feel an overwhelming sense of excitement and the adrenaline just washes over me. Given that it won the Oscar for best picture in 2018, most people have probably seen it by now but for those who haven't, you must immediately. The Shape Of Water is unique, weird, strange, intense, riveting, haunting, exciting, bold, romantic, inspiring, and effortlessly beautiful.


Set in Baltimore in 1962, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner at a secret government laboratory. She was abandoned as a child and found with brutal wounds on her neck, she is mute and only communicates through sign language. Her only friends are her closeted neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co worker, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) who also serves as her interpreter.


The facility receives a mysterious creature captured from the Amazon by colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) who is in charge of studying it. Elisa begins visiting the creature in secret and the two develop a very close bond. When Elisa discovers the facility plans to vivisect the creature as an advantage for the space race, she plans to break it out with Giles and Zelda’s help.


The Shape Of Water is in no way a vain or pretentious film but you do get caught up in its physical beauties. The cinematography, production design and effects are absolutely blinding as you can't stop looking at them. Every location is consumed with its own magic and mystery. Putting it all together is the craft of a film editor and there is no film at all that I wouldn't trust in the hands of editor, Sidney Wolinsky. Alexandre Desplat's Oscar winning score is so addicting, I actually listen to it when I'm out walking. When the sound enters my ears, I hear it as enchanting and it stops me in my tracks.


Part of what makes Del Toro such a great writer and director are his accomplishments in originality. No film he makes is quite like the last and yet, he's able to style them in a fashion that reminds audiences that it is Del Toro who made it all possible.


The performances are as ripe and juicy as a mouthwatering watermelon. Sally Hawkins gives audiences such a clear window into the heart and soul of Elisa. She loves the two people in her life but she longs for more than the repetitive daily routine that consumes her life. She's not alone but a big part of her feels an intense loneliness that is just eating her alive. Her physical and emotional attachment to the creature comes from her realization that like her, he is isolated and can only experience the world from a very limited perspective. She's like a wilted flower. Yet, through her budding relationship with the creature it’s as if she has been given water and with a little luck, she just might start to blossom again.


Michael Shannon is more often than not, typecast as villains but I must say, he's so good at playing them. Strickland is a very particular villain because he actually cares what other people think of him. His reputation is everything to him and his discovery of the creature fills him with such a prideful purpose. When the creature leaves, it's as though his identity is viciously ripped away from him and he'll stop at nothing to reclaim it.


His ruthlessness and dedication at recapturing the creature mentally prevents him from any possibility of understanding another point of view. The creatures escape was not something he saw coming and it starts to take a massive toll on his sanity. His facial expressions are startling to the eye as they are filled with such sincere prejudice and rage. Stickland alone is responsible for his undoing. He will soon come to realize that it was a colossal mistake to underestimate Elisa and Zelda. His ignorance and hubris is partly what makes The Shape Of Water so beautiful. The film makes such an impact because it shows that the so called voiceless, the people who are the most underestimated are strong and courageous and quite capable of accomplishing amazing feats.


Richard Jenkins Giles is so lovable. His friendship with Elisa is so genuine because he loves and appreciates her for exactly who she is but also because he is free to be completely himself around her. Elisa doesn't fully know who she is because her life has been so limited and Jenkins portrays Giles as a loving safety net where she feels free to try and find herself in anything they do together. He needs and relies on Elisa as she is able to help ease his emotional pain from having lost his job in advertising. He often lacks a sense of purpose and is always delighted when Elisa visits.


Giles is a conflicted character. Being homosexual in the 1960’s did not make his life easy. Jenkins magical performance reveals that when he and Elisa are with one another, they are not living in the real world. While their friendship is very real, it's also a luxury. Saving the creature symbolizes an act of rebellion against the intolerant society he and Elisa have been living in all of their lives. He's very frightened of taking a step that may get him in trouble. Regardless, he resolves to help Elisa and like her, forms his own emotional attachment to the creature. His role as the film’s narrator will capture your attention from the moment the movie begins to the moment the movie ends.


Octavia Spencer's portrayal of Zelda is rich in complexity. She’s a proud woman and a disciplined rule follower. As a woman of color in the 1960s, she does show an unspoken fear in her eyes regarding her place in society and the danger that comes with it.


Zelda’s role as Elisa’s interpreter gives her a sense of purpose. She loves being there for her friend but otherwise, she's just existing. At home, she lives under the roof of an overbearing husband. At work, she works under a man who with the snap of his fingers can dictate the course of her future. Zelda has no children and her relationship with Elisa is very maternal. She does have a very good sense of humor and she's always able to laugh and make Elisa smile. These are the moments she most looks forward to because she can interact with the one person who appreciates her.


Zelda was brought into the creatures rescue at the last minute. She was given no time to think and needed to act quickly in order to save both the creature and more importantly her friend. As a woman of color in 1962 Baltimore, she knew what was at risk if she got caught breaking the law. Yet, she soon sees how much the creature means to Elisa and she puts her fear on the shelf to support her friend in her hour of need.


Overall, The Shape Of Water is a masterpiece on every level. Considering the tumultuous time we live in, The Shape Of Water provides an eye opening lens in seeing what happens when we devalue who we see as the “other”.

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