The Shape of Water is one of the most acclaimed films of 2017. It’s a twisted and dark, fantasy, romantic movie about a woman and an amphibian-man.
I call it twisted only because it’s a different kind of love story; a sort of beauty-and-the-beast type only that this beast doesn’t turn into a man in the end.
The movie is also retro science fictional depicting the height of the Cold War, as the United States and Russia are locked in competition to send the first man into space in the 60s.
There is a lot going on behind the scenes with scientists from either side rushing against time to outdo each other, and espionage is at its old school peak as both governments also try to get an edge over the other’s progress through sabotage.
Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) is a lady who was found by the river with scars on her neck as a baby, and raised an orphan. She lives in an apartment in Baltimore and her neighbour, Giles (Richard Jenkins) is her closest friend. She works as a cleaner at a laboratory in the city that carries out America’s most secret and downright cruel experiments to get ahead in the Space Race.
At work she has the always chatty and bubbly, but has stern Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), a fellow cleaner, to keep her company all day. Zelda is not only her friend but also tries to mother her in some way, almost trying to protect her – seeing her ‘vulnerability’ – in the workspace that is predominantly male.
The two mostly go unnoticed and are only called upon when there is cleaning to be done, and they seem to know their place in this atmosphere of scientists.
Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) brings in a frightful catch in a tightly sealed container one time, and throws the whole facility into a high-level-alert mode.
Restrictions within one of the facility’s holding areas becomes very stringent as contents of the catch are kept secret from everybody else working within the laboratory building.
Screams of agony can be heard coming from the holding area, and Strickland’s sweating and mean face every time he leaves the room are very indicative of a torture session going on behind the heavy steel door.
One day things go horribly wrong. Elisa and Zelda are called in to clean up a bloody mess in the room, and in all the ensuing confusion she finally lays eyes on what has been kept hidden all along. It turns out that it is some sort of humanoid amphibian, brought in from South America.
She secretly starts seeing the creature when the scientists and the colonel go for breaks in between their experiments. As time goes by, she even starts plotting about how she would get the creature away from the facility before the scientists can do serious harm to it.
The best thing about this movie is how gripping it is. It took me a while into it to even realise that there’s something going on with Elisa that should have been easier to pick out if I wasn’t so preoccupied with the sights and sounds of everything else going on.
The beginning of the movie is actually a narration, I believe by Richard Jenkins, while the scene is of a flat filled with water. Watching it with my Movie Night Gang, I have never heard such silent attentiveness neither have I been roped so fast into a movie that I had moments before bashed simply for its title.
My takeaway is that this is a movie about loving and understanding everyone for who they are. Zelda is a black woman, Elisa is a person living with a disability, while Giles is a closeted gay man. They represent the marginalised in American society (and in most societies) who find strength in themselves and each other.
They also, in some instances, prove to be stronger-willed than their more entitled antagonists. And that’s what is so intriguing about this movie. I think the underlying tone of it is that, there’s so much one can do and offer just the way you are. What you possess as a person is so valuable that you don’t need the approval of the majority in order for it to be an amazing quality.
I should say that this is a very mature movie because it contains nudity, sexual scenes and strong language. There’s a reason the movie won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Production Design and Best Original Score at this year’s Oscars.
It is a movie unlike any you’ve seen before or any you’ll see afterwards; a wonderful movie, even though very emotional, for a crew viewing.