Critics Corner: An Satisfyingly Unusual Romance

“The Shape of Water” immediately removed me from my seat, transplanting me to a surreal underwater world with a table and chairs suspended elegantly in the water, drifting around like a dream.

Guillermo Del Toro has directed a wide variety of bizarre and unique movies, many of which have become cult classics. He is a visionary writer and director, and his passion is apparent in the way he beautifully displays the obscene. His directing lends elegance to concepts and creatures that would stereotypically be displayed as ugly. “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Devil’s Backbone” are two of his more gripping works.

Some of his creations have been cringe-worthy, like the “Hellboy” series for example. Del Toro has got to be a huge nerd, judging by the way his films draw on old movies and comic books and often include monsters and allusions to mythology. While I’ve found that some of Del Toro’s movies just don’t quite work conceptually, “The Shape of Water” is one of his movies that definitely does succeed in its storyline. It is, in my opinion, one of his best creations, a visual masterpiece with a unique story line.

Typically, I’m not into romance movies. I find that they are full of clichés and unrealistic visions of what love is like. “The Shape of Water” shatters the mold of a typical romance lm. A er all, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any other films that pair up a mute woman and a sh man. While this seems like a peculiar concept, in the moment, it totally makes sense. The relationship seems pure and right.

Romantic counterpart Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, is cute and charming. Watching Elisa earn the trust of the unnamed amphibious creature over time by bringing him hard-boiled eggs is weird and endearing. While the two can’t communicate with words, you can feel what they are saying through their body language, facial expressions and eventually, their sign language. The development of the relationship is heartwarming, but white male scientists ruin everything.

The film is set in the Cold War era, and the tensions between America and Russia are depicted throughout the plotline. The amphibious creature has come from the Amazon and is now being held in a laboratory by Americans who are hoping to use the creature’s mystic powers to help their Space Race mission to reach the moon first. The doctors relentlessly torture the creature, which they refer to as “the asset.”

Elisa and her mentor and close friend Giles rescue the creature and house him in Elisa’s bathtub. is solution buys them time, but the cisgender white men are persistent pests, causing quite a ruckus as they fight to get their “asset” back.

Meanwhile, we learn more about the creature through the scenes where Giles watches him while Elisa is at work. Giles is an artist, and he sketches pictures of the amphibian that fascinate the creature. Giles teaches him how to live without accidentally hurting people, and he allows him to watch movies and explore art. The relationship between Elisa and the creature continues to intensify and becomes more romantic.

The design of the creature really humanizes him and you can tell that Del Toro worked to create a protagonist, not a monster. The amphibious man was played by Del Toro’s go-to creature actor, Doug Jones, who was also in “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Crimson Peak”. Jones was dressed in a thick rubber suit that was specially designed with lovely glistening skin and muscles.

“The Shape of Water” is a beautiful movie that is likely to make the viewer think about humanity and what it means to be “human”. The creature displays much more empathy and humanity than many of the actual humans in the film. He shows us that humans are nasty and have a tendency to destroy wonderful and innocent things for the sake of personal gain. The moments where we see the creature suffer at the hands of his torturers are truly painful and made me feel embarrassment for the human species.

The movie both begins and ends in aesthetic underwater scenes. Avoiding spoilers, I’ll say that the ending is lovely and really tugged at my heartstrings. “The Shape of Water” managed to transcend stereotypes of romance movies and helped me question the typical idea of a couple. It truly is a work of art, and a lm that I think folks should consider watching.

Bailee may be reached at
bclark@su-spectator.com