Guillermo del Toro going out to prove that love has no limits – in what may arguably his best film in the English language alongside his best film since Pan’s Labyrinth. Much like Pan’s Labyrinth, what Guillermo del Toro has presented to audiences through The Shape of Water is a perfect fairy tale for grown ups, because it brings its viewers back through time in the same way that a memory would. It feels refreshing but also relaxing, yet the reminder that Guillermo del Toro places his viewers within is a sense of tranquility – and often from the most unexpected ways imaginable. But that’s one among many things we know a director like Guillermo del Toro has been best at, because his imagination isn’t anything like what any other director can present on any day.
The Shape of Water is the story of an impossible love between a mute janitor and an amphibian creature within the confines of a research facility. Set during the Cold War, The Shape of Water‘s political background sets afoot what makes the central love story all the more powerful – because it was at a time in which America was still divided over how they had viewed race and were determined to be ahead of their rivals within the war. But somehow, every small plot thread that comes by all adds up to something all the more beautiful – and it’s integral to why The Shape of Water ever has found itself becoming as touching as it is. Everything is presented as simple and stays that way, just like the most noted fairy tales would be – yet they aren’t without smaller steps that make their message all the more clear and powerful as they are.
In the role of the mute is the wonderful Sally Hawkins. Hawkins is magnetic in this role, even if she does not say a word because her ability to drive so much emotion through the form of action is absolutely incredible. She doesn’t talk, but you feel so much power from her ability to communicate with the asset (Doug Jones). But against a background where everything is only set to conform to what society expects out of a person’s own roles, the power of The Shape of Water shines forth like a great melodrama would, but at its core everything is kept simple and that’s where the most beautiful moments manage to shine as brightly as they should. Sally Hawkins’s presence feels warm and inviting, just as Doug Jones’s portrayal as the amphibian man is evidently a fragile one – but the mutual understanding between the pair is what not only creates perfect chemistry, it serves as a reminder for the tranquility inside our world and where it is found. It appears odd, but that’s also what makes it so beautiful.
But the matter of which Guillermo del Toro toys around with the setting and the scenario he is given is perhaps the very best aspect of The Shape of Water: for it still feels very modern, but how he plays around with the setting is where it finds itself reaching for its most effective. In an age of America overrun with paranoia and segregation, Guillermo del Toro brings his viewers within the setting by making it feel as if this was our own reality. This is where the best fantasy films have already found themselves coming about, because we know within the worlds that they have created that it could still feel much like our own and thus we are drawn forth by its own world. What Guillermo del Toro is able to create doesn’t merely feel limited to the elaborate set designs or imaginative visual effects, but because of how they are able to invite their viewers into another world with such ease.
To call The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro’s answer to Beauty and the Beast is one way of putting together why it works as splendidly as it does. But this is a story that speaks out for empathy, because of how Guillermo del Toro manages to evoke the feeling of understanding others come clear from his own viewers even with the most unbelievable circumstances coming to play. And The Shape of Water doesn’t keep itself limited as a mere fantasy, which allows for it to reach further. I also don’t think it’s really possible to capture perfectly how magnetic Sally Hawkins is in the role, because her actions speak for themselves and emote much more than what one would imagine if she was actually speaking words. It just calls upon how well you understand emotions within the circumstance, and that’s why The Shape of Water is ever so beautiful.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Fox Searchlight.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay by Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Produced by Guillermo del Toro, J. Miles Dale
Starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones, Michael Stuhlbarg
Release Year: 2017
Running Time: 123 minutes