How far do the bonds of love go? What makes a monster? What makes a man? These are some questions that Guilleromo Del Toro’s sprawling fantasy-fairytale The Shape of Water seeks to ponder. Aside from being a visual treat, the film is an emotive, layered social commentary on the nature of man that will pull on the heartstrings.
If Del Toro is a master of anything, he is the foremost expert at creating whole, rich, colorful worlds in which his films take place. In the The Shape of Water audiences are treated to a lush, romantic setting in the 1960s on the outskirts of Baltimore, where we meet our pair of misfits.
The film dives into what it means to be an “other.” Eliza, the primary character of the film, is mute from birth. Eliza has a zest for life and humorous defense about her that often goes unnoticed by her peers who assume she’s dumb. She cares for her neighbor, Nick, a defunct ad illustrator and a closeted gay man who’s harboring an unrequited love. Neither have a full place in the word, but make the best of their quaint lives. Eliza, who is a janitor for a secret government facility, stumbles across “an asset” and meets government agent Strickland – the Leviathan personified. The top-secret asset, who we are told was worshiped as a God in some exotic land, is a fish-like creature, similar to that of the film Creature from the Black Lagoon but with the beauty of a grecian sculpture.
As she explores her relationship with the fish-man, a thing that’s not fully human but possesses more character and virtue then some men, audiences may reflect on deeper questions about love. While at times silly and overhanded with symbolism, The Shape of Water has an element of wonder that few films obtain. Though I found it hard to root for a relationship that seemed a little too “pet-like,” the film still moved me to tears, a feat that speaks to its efficacy. Sally Hawkins’ performance drives the narrative. She brings more pathos and joy to work in a non-speaking role than most actresses are able to with dialogue. Though not for all, The Shape of Water, makes for a splendid, fanciful investigation into what it means to be human.
Kayla Stetzel graduated in 2017 with a degree in Marketing Management.