“The Shape of Water”: 13 Oscar nominations, Golden Globe for best director, praised as one of the best movies of the year. What is it? A love story between a mute janitor and a fish man.
Set in 1960s Baltimore, the movie tells the story of Elisa, the mute janitor, played by Sally Hawkins, who works in a secretive government facility, along with her janitor buddy, Zelda played by Octavia Smith. The main intrigue arises when Strickland, an unpleasant and gritty government agent, played by Michael Shannon, brings a supposed sea god up from the Amazon to be examined. Elisa takes a particular interest in the fish as she sees past its odd surface, and in turn, the fish sees past Elisa’s muteness. They gradually craft a bond through Elisa’s showcasing of food and music and find themselves falling in love. However, as the cold war looms, the fate of the fish is put into question, and Elisa and her friends, her best friend and neighbor, Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, and Zelda, are tasked with the fish’s escape.
In essence, the story is a grown-up fairytale. The surroundings are mystical; the romance is poetic; and, the antagonist is archetypical yet striking. Still, certain themes originate from an adult world: Giles, a sweet, aging man, is ostracized by his sexuality. This particular characteristic is highlighted by an encounter in a dinner when we’re reminded of the actualities of that time. Moreover, the film is entirely uncensored. I never thought that I wanted to see woman-fish sex, and now that I have, I can firmly say that I never wanted to see woman-fish sex. Not to mention the gory scenes. In one instance, a character is shot through his cheek and then pulled by the bullet hole.
I couldn’t quite say if i liked the movie or not when I first got out of the theater. I thought it certainly wasn’t a bad movie, but it was strange, very strange. Yet, preparing for this article, I found an interview with the director, Guillermo Del Toro, in which he talked about the idea of a love story like Beauty and the Beast, but without the ending of the Beast turning into a man. He says: “understanding rather than transformation as a motor of love”. That concept clicked with me, and along with other minor realizations, it changed my initial opinion. I won’t say that the movie is life-altering in its lessons, but simply said, it’s romantic, sweet, and charming and will stay on your mind for much longer than its two hour play time.