Rajeev Masand’s Film Review of The Shape of Water

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Jenkins

Director: Guillermo del Toro

There is no one quite like Guillermo del Toro, a director who conjures up worlds more vivid than the fantasy of our dreams, a filmmaker who re-imagines traditional fairy tales and weaves them into unforgettable stories. The Shape of Water is his latest cinematic adventure, depicting a beautiful romance between an aquatic man and a mute woman.

I mention romance but there are so many layers to this film. As much as there is love, del Toro also addresses prejudices here, of so many different kinds. This may be a film set in the 1960s, but The Shape of Water advocates empathy, a sentiment clearly lacking today.

The story has echoes of Beauty and the Beast. Sally Hawkins plays Eliza, a janitor in a government scientific facility. Eliza is mute but devours sound through movies and music. It’s pertinent that her only two friends – her gay neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and fellow cleaner Zelda (Octavia Spencer) – are both loquacious and can talk up a storm.

Yet Eliza truly begins to communicate when she encounters the half fish-half man creature retrieved from the Amazon. Brought to the facility, he is a top secret. After all, this is the Cold War era and he could be useful against the Russians in the race to send him to space. Other players in this phantasmagorical story are Michael Stuhlbarg in the role of a sympathetic scientist at the facility, and Michael Shannon as the villain, Strickland, who tortures the ‘aqua man’, determined to quell his spirit.

Despite all odds, Eliza and the creature fall in love. It’s a love that develops over boiled eggs, music, and compassion. None of this feels awkward; del Toro’s narrative is so graceful and fluid. But Strickland – and danger — is never far behind.

This is a beautiful, magical, visual film that appeals as much to the eye as it does to the heart. The sight of a room filled with water in one incredible scene will linger in your mind. 

The Shape of Water has received much Oscar love, leading with 13 nominations including Best Picture, Director, and Actress for Sally Hawkins, who literally floats above the material. Hawkins’s performance is sublime and worthy of a watch all on its own.

It’s hard to define The Shape of Water — after all, does it really have a shape? del Toro uses it as an allegory to love. It isn’t something that can be contained within a shape. Instead, allow love, and this film, to envelop you like water. I’m going with four out of five for this incredible film.

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