Preferences are varied when it comes to favourite movies; some might be touched by the essence of a story that it becomes their most preferred movie, some might not have any favourites at all and that is rare or their case could be something like mine. I do not have any favourites but I have some movies stashed away in my memory which have managed to leave an impression.
Today I write to give my perspective on one such absolutely beautiful movie that has managed to overwhelm me in a way that still strikes a strangely bittersweet chord(….and trust me, that’s a pretty tough thing to accomplish.…). There’s a high chance you might already be very familiar with this magical work of Guillermo del Toro, it is a masterpiece ;The Shape Of water. So, here we go!
Did you watch the 90th Academy Awards? No? (…the live broadcast of the Oscars is where the movie enticed me into watching it….) The Shape Of Water was nominated in 13 categories that year and it won 4 of them which included Best Picture, Best Director, Best Product Design and Best Original Score.
Released in 2017 it has also been nominated for seven Golden Globes where it won two, fourteen Critics choice where it won four and twelve British Academy of Film awards where it won three (...Did you notice the sum of the mentioned awards? It’s 13!!!!! the same number awards it was nominated for at the Oscars….) The movie has a 92% score on Rotten Tomatoes and most people who watch it usually really adore it. The director of the movie Guillermo del Toro and Daniel Kraus published a novelisation of the movie in March 2018. But that is all technical information. Let me walk you through the story.
The Story of The Shape Of Water:
But I can’t be alone, can I? Of course not; I’m not that special. Anomalies like me exist all around the world. So when does an anomaly quit being an anomaly and start being just the way things happen to be? What if you and I are not the last of our kinds, but one of the first? The first of better creatures in a better wold? We can hope, can’t we? That we’re not of the past, but the future?
Guillermo del Toro, The Shape Of Water.
The story of The Shape Of Water starts with the narrator (most likely Giles…) referring to our protagonist, Elisa Esposito as the princess without a voice and see her apartment flooded with water as she sleeps peacefully. Elisa lives in an apartment above a theatre by herself with neighbour Giles, an artist who is struggling as an illustrator for advertisements as her friend and a parent figure.
Set in 1960’s, a time when the cold war between the two power blocks; USA and Russia was taking place in the form of a race in scientific discoveries and advancements in space travel. Elisa works at one such facility in Baltimore, Maryland as a janitor. The only other friend she has is African-American co-worker Zelda who also behaves like a caring but very cautious and protective mother towards Elisa. Zelda also acts as an interpreter for mute Elisa. Our protagonist feels incomplete, flawed or imperfect because she can’t speak.
As the story progresses we meet Colonel Richard Strickland, our antagonist, a seemingly professional, authoritative and kind of sadistic man (if you ask me.…) who is in charge of the recent project the laboratory is working on. His first interaction with Elisa and Zelda is in men’s bathroom and later in his office after an accident ( we’ll get into it soon...) where he is informed by Zelda that Elisa is an orphan that was found by a river with her neck slashed on the sides and that caused her to become mute.
Strickland has a thing for Elisa and no, people it’s not the kind of attention you’d want from him, the guy is married and has kids, yet behaved like a creep.
Strickland had gotten two of his fingers slashed in the laboratory and being a janitor, Elisa was asked to clean up the mess with Zelda. That was when she noticed a creature in the laboratory, imprisoned and most definitely the one that slashed off Strickland’s fingers. We discover that the creature taken from South American waters of the Amazon is worshipped like a god by the locals.
It was her curiosity which began her story. Elisa witnesses what was truly being studied, she sympathises with him and starts communicating with him by offering boiled eggs during her lunchtime and playing music records on her player during the time she’d spend by the enclosed area the creature was kept in.
They grew close with eggs and the creature loving the music she played everyday for him. Many articles call him Amphibian man but we will call him Merman. He did not have a tail, he was half fish with gills, webbed hands, feet and his scaly but galaxy-like skin littered with glowing spots (…and because I like it more.…).
We also meet scientist Robert Hoffsteitier who is actually a Russian spy and humane towards our Merman. He wanted to study more of his characteristics and abilities. But of course we have Strickland who seems to have a vendetta against the creature and keeps tasing him with an electronic cane and that is possibly why he was attacked back by the Merman.
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. He’s happy – to see me. Every time. Every day.
Guillermodel Toro, ( Elisa to Giles) The Shape Of Water.
Here’s the thing friends, Strickland himself is pressurised by those above him in rank to make more scientific breakthroughs before Russia does and is probably going through a midlife crisis in the midst of the looming cold war. He displaces his frustration onto those he thinks he can control. I feel sorry for him but it doesn’t justify his cruel behaviour.
Elisa on the other hand is having a wonderful time getting to know Merman but it’s all cut short when she learns that Strickland has been ordered to vivisect the creature to somehow advance into space before Russia ( how in the world would operating on an ocean creature help launch a rocket into space???!!!!!…. seriously, what was up with people???…). She got Giles to help in her plan of getting our Merman to escape and our spy disguised as scientist unwilling to euthanize the creature as ordered, helps her through it (…this was one heck of a rescue heist.…).
Elisa is keeping Merman in her bathtub and Giles watches over him when she is at work. Meanwhile, Strickland, suspicious and even more frustrated now, is inquiring the all the staff. In one such instance, we see Elisa delivering profanity at strickland ( that’s my girl!!!…) but Zelda saves her.
Soon, Elisa and Merman get pretty intimate with eachother (…almost flooding the whole building in the process but okay…). She plans to release him in the canal on a day that it is supposed to rain. The canal will overflow enough for merman to make it back to the oceans.
She would have executed her plan perfectly but that would be a little bland. We have Hoffsteitier tell Strickland about Elisa and Zelda keeping Merman, moments before he dies from gunshot wounds from both his Russian handlers and Strickland who tortured him in his last minutes.
Strickland threatens Zelda at her home and she doesn’t budge but her husband gives away the location of Elisa. Now, a very furious and determined antagonist gets to her place only to find it empty but discovers her plans.
Elisa is saying goodbye to Merman as she stands by the flooded canal with Giles by them. Strickland arrives, pushes Giles off the way and shoots our couple. As Strickland stands there floating with contempt and triumph, Merman rises and kills him with his webbed claws. Then we watch as Giles tells him to take Elisa with him into the water. Police arrived with Zelda in tow. The ending unfolds as merman heals Elisa in the water and reopens the scars on her neck which form gills. They close the story with a loving kiss and a poem (…probably the best known lines from The Shape Of Water...) our narrator recites echos through the water that we experience on screen;
Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love, it humbles my heart for you are everywhere.
Hakim Sana’i s The book of everything: journey of the heart’s desires: Hakim Sana’is walled garden of truth , used by Guillermo del Toro in The Shape Of Water.
My love for the story deepens with the poem.
The poem puts everything into perspective for every person who would be moved by the story but would be too overwhelmed or unable to express it in words. The presence of love regardless of form or shape; it’s omnipresence fits excellently with The Shape Of Water.
Water doesn’t have a shape and although the interpretation of the story would differ according to people, I like to see it as a manifestation of the universal nature of love that surpasses everything.
I absolutely love how realistic the story seems.
The characters are human and the way it represents the point in history is very interestingly accurate even if the movie is a fantastical fairytale.
It becomes hard to accept that it is not real (….fingers crossed ’cause you never know...). I am pretty neutral about the possibility that Elisa could be a Mer-person.
All the clues are peppered throughout the film. I think Guillermo del Toro didn’t specify this on purpose. Audience would be able to use their own imagination this way.
It deserves all the hype it gets. Everything about is so sweet despite all the ugly sides of humanity and struggles of the society portrayed. It is a true bittersweet masterpiece.
I hope you love it just as much if not more and that is if you haven’t watched it already.