*This Post Contains Spoilers*
Guillermo del Toro is well on his way to becoming a household name. We all have fond memories of his Hell Boy films, where he also explored realms outside of the human experience. The Shape Of Water, which baffled critics with four Oscar wins (and nine more nominations) explores the emotional psyche of Elisa, (Sally Hawkins, who recently also appeared in Paddington 2) a mute who seems at all times to be away from others in society. Her closest friends, a closeted gay neighbour, Giles, (Richard Jenkins) and her black friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer) are also on the outskirts of the 1960s society.
Directed, produced and co-written by del Toro (and Vanessa Taylor), this narrative places the marginalised at the centre of morality and heroism. Elisa, Giles and Zelda all play their part (along with the Russian doctor) in saving the ‘Amphibian Man’ (Doug Jones) from a brutal dissection. The ‘monster’ that Giles describes during the beginning narrative is the picture of patriarchal oppression. Richard Strickland is your typical white, male and middle-aged misogynist of the time. He is served by his wife both at the table and in the bedroom, and is drawn to Elisa because of her inability to talk, as he desires his women quite and submissive. Although his character is exactly the type of man present society (should) reject, it is refreshing to see this trope in a villainous role, instead of playing a character such as (dare I say it) James Bond. It’s almost ironic that Strickland is the monster when he’s shown in shot with something completely unnatural in appearance, and yet as an audience I’m sure we all would rather share a meal (most probably or hard boiled eggs) with the blue creature than with the power hungry Colonel.
Despite Sally Hawkins not receiving the Oscar for Best Leading Actress (Frances McDormand received the award for her breathtaking acting in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) her part in the film was nothing short of phenomenal. She has no lines (expect in her imagination where she sings) and yet we know exactly what she means through her signs (I watched the film without subtitles) and her body language. The most intense scene throughout the entire film was not from the heavy action, it is Elisa’s pleading with Giles to save this creature, a creature that understands her despite her differences from ‘normality’. As the camera pans to follow her around the room as she interrupts Giles again and again with her body, as she cannot interrupt him with words, a hollow in the chest of the audience begins to be carved out. As we realise how Elisa is just as alone as this unknown being at the lab is. It is clear from this moment that without him she is not entirely whole. Her eyes never leave Giles, the only sound that we hear from her is the thudding of her hands as she passionately signs.
When he looks at me… the way he looks at me. He doesn’t know how I lack, or how I am incomplete.
Elisa’s desperation as she grabs Giles, as she bangs on the walls to make sound so he’ll help her… well I can’t imagine there being a person in the cinema not swallowing a lump in their throat.
It’s not surprise that the film received an Oscar for Best Production Design, (awarded to Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeff Melvin) del Toro explained how the meek set of the lab contrasted entirely with the relationship that develops between Elisa and the ‘Amphibian Man’. Thus when it was time for Elisa to break him out of the lab and bring him to her home, it was clear that he belonged with her. The aesthetic of her home, warm and familiar to us as we had seen her most intimate moments here (notably the bathtub, where the creature would be kept) further emphasised Elisa’s belief that everything in her life had brought her to him. Making the ending of the narrative, the River God turning her vocal chord injury (which is cruelly pointed out by Strickland) into gills, perfect.
A very well deserved Oscar for Best Director for del Toro. I would wholly recommend this film, it is available of DVD and Blu-Ray at Amazon and other retailers.
The Shape Of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Fox, certificate 15