“When he looks at me, the way he looks at me… he does not know what I lack. Or how I am incomplete. He sees me for what I am, as I am.”
One of the most surprising Best Picture winners of recent years, Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical love story The Shape of Water is an excellent and beautifully-made film about forbidden love in the 1960s. What makes this film so different, however, is who the love is between and the clever, creative choices that are made to tell this romantic tale. Despite its mildly off-putting premise, del Toro directs this movie with a sense of wonder that is very often lost in romance films. Love is a universal feeling that any being of any background is able to experience and the graceful filmmaking that del Toro has mastered is perfect for telling this delightful story.
Deep underground in a secret research base, a mute woman named Elisa (Sally Hawkins) makes her living as a janitor while living with her best friend Giles (Richard Jenkins). When the research facility gets a new arrival, an amphibious creature (Doug Jones) from South America, Elisa stumbles upon him and forms a deep, emotional bond stronger than anything she had felt before. This unlikely romance is threatened, however, when facility head Strickland (Michael Shannon) forms a hatred for the creature and wants him dissected for study.
Love does not always require flashy substance or intricate words of affirmation in order to be romantic or genuine. Guillermo del Toro and Vanessa Taylor’s beautiful script shows that sometimes chemistry between two beings is just meant to be. This oddly charming film shows that love can really just be an unspoken bond between two individuals and there are no two better characters to exhibit this than Elisa and the amphibian man. The oddly charming romance that develops between these two is mostly fleshed out in physical ways, as Elisa is mute and the creature cannot speak, but upon first interaction, it is obvious to the audience that their love is pure. These characteristics of the two are what make them so compatible and although their love could be seen as taboo, the way del Toro and Taylor write them together is utterly poetic. Along with the compelling subplots and the supporting characters, this script does nothing but enrich this lovely world.
The direction from Guillermo del Toro is magical and his trademark sense of fantasy is inserted into this story in unforgettable ways. While this film focuses more on its script and romance rather than a plethora of fantastical creatures, the design of the amphibian man still continues to amaze me. It is surprisingly easy to feel Jones’ performance, even through the makeup and practical effects, and he makes it easy to fall in love with this sensitive creature. Del Toro’s creature tendencies once again shine through and while it was not exactly the main part of this film, the way that he balances fascination with an interesting story is unmatched. There is plenty of humor throughout this film’s dialogue and while most of the plot’s pacing is fairly standard, del Toro is able to make his romance film resonate with just about anyone.
Dan Laustsen’s cinematography and Alexandre Desplat’s score are the technical pieces that help tell this story more than anything else. Laustsen shoots this film in such a mystical style that really helps to enhance this world and its supernatural beauty. The love between Elisa and the amphibian man is gorgeous and Laustsen captures every moment of that with his incredible camera. The score by Desplat also assists in moving this story along with ease by creating an uplifting feeling throughout. Even in the tensest of scenes riddled with dark action or violent drama, I was strangely engrossed in the music and how well it invokes this almost childlike sense of adventure. In the more lighthearted sequences, the score is perfect for showing this love blossom and these love scenes are intertwined excellently with the antagonists’ plot. The transitions between the two different tones of this film are never jarring, as del Toro is able to work his magic on them as well.
Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a masterclass in both fantasy filmmaking and in revealing the power of unspoken love. His Best Picture winning-film might not be anyone’s most memorable or favorite movie but the passion that is so clearly seen in his direction and story makes this film such a boldly original vision of what romance can be.