2018 in Cinema:
The Shape of Water, 2018
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg, Octavia Spencer
Fresh off its 13 Oscar nominations (including Best Picture), The Shape of Water stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor working in a secret government laboratory in the early 1960s, where one day an aquatic humanoid creature (played by Doug Jones) is brought in by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). Richard, and the other government officials, soon plans to vivisect the creature to learn more about it and hope for possible advantages over the Russians in space travel. Elisa, though, accidentally encounters the creature and soon forms somewhat of a connection with it, feeding it eggs on a daily basis, and is horrified to find out they plan on killing it so plots to kidnap it with the help of her only two friends, her secretly-gay neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her African-American work colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer).
Despite its wide praise, and the large amount of Oscar nominations, I was still a bit apprehensive going in to a film whose main premise surrounds a mute woman and an aquatic creature engaging in some form of a relationship, but it is presented so beautifully, and acted so perfectly, that by the time anything happens it almost feels quite normal, which is a credit to the director and the writer. Elisa, despite not being able to speak, is played absolutely magnificently by Sally Hawkins, and it will take some performance to wrestle the Oscar for Best Actress away from her. It’s not just her, though, as both Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Michael Shannon all play their parts brilliantly (the first two receiving nominations for Best Supporting Actress and Best Supporting Actor, respectively).
But the thing that had me captivated the most was its beautiful, beautiful visuals. From the colours to the costumes to the use of water, everything about this film is beautiful, and accompanying those visuals is a great soundtrack. It could have focused too much on the water to the point it became a distraction, but I found it used just enough; from showing Elisa getting regular baths to it raining to Richard constantly drinking water, it became quite subtle in the background despite being a large focus of the film’s visuals.
I also liked how every character, not just Elisa and the creature, feels as if they have something missing, and/or feel incomplete in their lives. Elisa can’t speak, and she even says how she feels alone in the world (thus her connection to this creature which feels likewise), but Giles is gay and can’t act on it and has never had a true love, Richard feels as if his career hasn’t advanced to where it should be, Zelda has a relationship at home she constantly complains about, as well as being African-American in a rather racist era; all these little issues they have help flush out their characters and force a connection between the audience and them, as well as explaining somehow why this woman fancies a humanoid fish.
There are very few issues I had with this film as nearly everything is beautifully done, but I suppose the biggest issue I took, and it’s a relatively small issue, is how it doesn’t think too highly of its audience at times. With Elisa being mute she communicates through sign language, and both Zelda (who she’s worked with for ten years) and Giles have learned to understand sign language, and it establishes fairly early on that if these characters continue the conversation from what she signs then we get translations, if they simply repeat it in their response we don’t (ie if she signs about how she’s feeling hungry and Zelda comments that she too is feeling hungry, ensuring her dialogue repeats what Elisa signs, we won’t get a translation on the screen). Yes it makes for a pretty poor scene with Giles (in which she forces him to repeat everything she signs), but it’s a nice tactic to use as we don’t need a translation for everything if characters are going to repeat things. However, upon her first meeting with the creature she signs ‘egg’, and every time it’s signed again (at least a further three times) from the creature and her we see the translation again. If they’re not saying anything else, and we’ve been shown the way to say ‘egg’, we don’t need these constant translations. Like I said; small issue.
And as for its lack of five-stars in the plot category, that’s because I felt like it rushed the love element a bit too quick; ideally I would have liked an extra five-to-ten minutes at the laboratory showing this connection between Elisa and the creature really advancing, rather than the relatively rushedness it appeared (especially considering their ‘sex’ scene comes rather out of nowhere).
How many of its 13 Oscar nominations it takes home remain to be seen, but if the performances, visuals and nice themes are anything to go by (not to mention its critical praise) it will do well. For an interspecies love story about a sea-creature and a mute, it is surprisingly romantic (if a little rushed) and all the characters involved are nicely explored. Certainly one to watch if nothing else for its gorgeous visuals.
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