A friend of mine once said, “What Tim Burton tries to do, Guillermo del Toro does.” There has never been a more apt description for this movie. The Shape of Water is a cinematic love letter to the things we find weird and/or different. It’s a bold love story about how we all want to be known deeply, and find the people who see past our own surface. How we all want to be loved in all of our weirdness. It’s a beautiful film and one that oddly strikes close to home for me in the current phase of my life.
The film centers around Elisa, a lonely woman who is a cleaning lady at a government facility. Elisa is also somewhat disabled and lacks the ability to communicate with her own voice. Sally Hawkins brings such a charmingly sweet performance to Elisa, which radiates through all her silent actions. She’s clearly an adult, but there is a childlike vulnerability in her which she brings to the role.
Each day, Elisa goes to work, and her life has a very repetitive flow until she discovers a secret inside this government workplace. Richard Strickland– played by the always intensified Michael Shannon– has caught a creature. An Amphibian Man as they call it. At first, Elisa is skeptical of him, but she begins to notice a lot of commonalities between them, and as the story pushes forward, an unlikely love begins to form.
The aspect I love most about this film is how it touches on disability and differences within love in an allegorical way. As I said, at the start of this, The Shape of Water hit very close to home for me. Reason being, I’m also a person who lives with a disability, and just this year I also entered into a marriage with a person who also has a disability. Just like this movie, our love flourished because she sees me in a way no one else can. She loves me in all my imperfection as much as I love her. In the film, Elisa expresses to her friend that she needs the amphibian man because he sees past all of it. He understands Elisa like no one ever has or ever will because he has the same limitations of speaking as her.
To me, this is what makes this film such a remarkable effort by Del Toro because the film has such an empathy for the unaccepted. You can tell Del Toro was probably the nerdy kid who did not know how to fit in, because it shines in the writing.
Some aspects of the story might be jarring for some audiences. I will not spoil the details, but there are portions of this film that might challenge viewers. Personally, it did not bother me as much as others because del Toro is known for pushing the edges with his fairy tales, and sometimes to a fault.
As far as the rest of the performances in this film, the casting is beyond pitch perfect. Richard Jenkins plays an older man who has not come out of the closet, and I swear he does so much with so little in this movie. He is one of the last remaining actors I can think of that can pretty much do any genre he pleases. Doug Jones once again delivers another strong creature performance giving Andy Serkis a run for his money. I think Serkis and Jones are probably the most unappreciated performers in Hollywood, delivering roles that keep getting grossly overlooked by the Academy.
Overall, The Shape of the Water is another beautifully told fairy tale from the playful mind of Guillermo del Toro. It’s an unconventional love story about two unique individuals, finding love through challenging ways. I’m not sure where this ranks among the catalog of Del Toro, but it’s certainly one of his best efforts to date. You can truly tell the magic inside of Del Toro’s heart is far from losing its light.