Shape Of Water
Starring: Sally Hawkins,Richard Jenkins, Michael Shanon, Octavia Spencer
Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Rating: *** ½(3 a half stars)
Touching , warm-hearted and moving as it , The Shape Of Water does not acquire that edifying shape of greatness it aspires to. I will tell you why. It’s a beautifully conceived tale of a love so impossible that it makes our soul shivers in frightened delight.But it remains rather blissfully, in the zone of the incredible because of its impossibility.
Director Guillermo del Toro taps the fantasy element and yearning that underlines the very real setting of workingclass misery. He shoots the film like a morality tale in la-la-land.There is even a musical number where our mute heroine Eliza(the wonderfully self-effacing Sally Hawkins, last seen doing trivia in Paddington) bursts into a Judy Garland styled love confession for her object of adoration, a half-human half-amphibian creature she has rescued and kidnapped from a laboratory involved in unmentionable and needless to say, unclassified, international rackets where she works as a janitor.
I know I am tumbling over a torrent of information here. Catch your breath.But that’s the shape this shapely film takes in our perception. A kind of breathless ardour pervades the very basic plotline about a lonely spinster heroine , her aging gay neighbour Giles(Richard Jenkins)and the King Kong like creature whom they hide in their apartment.
The narrative is a fascinating mix of fairytale fantasy and workingclass desolation spiked with a quirky humour and wacky brutality.It’s like Quentin Tarantino gone sober. Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins are almost like Stephen Spielberg’s kids from ET who have their own little secret freak-friend hidden in their home.
There is an innocent wonderment secreted in this remarkable film. No doubt about that. But finally what I saw was a very basic skeletal morality tale where a poor brave lonely woman takes on a bully from the Establishment Richard Strickland (played by the scarily scummy Micheal Shannon) and defeats him because…well, love conquers all. At least in the movies.
To drive in the point of how essential it is to fill our lives with wishful thinking(or, as it happens in this film, wishful sinking since the amour is aqueous ) the director situates the drama of Eliza’s life in a cinematic stratosphere filled with sounds of delighted shrieks and petrified grunts. You see, Eliza lives in an apartment above a movie theatre and lives a life of suppressed longings.
Hawkins is so majestically mousy in her lovelorn avatar , her battle with the Establishment seems doomed from the start.Making the conflict even more unequal is Michael Shannon’s villainy, so vile he makes our Khilji in Padmaavat appear humane in comparison. Shannon is a racist,sexist, over-sexed , sadistic lout who uses his brute force with that typically American arrogance that Trump would approve of.
This sense of contemporary conviction compounded with a nostalgia for a time when love was an ache in the heart moving slowly towards the groin, is what makes this film so special. Denuded of that sense of layered luminosity that we’ve seen in Guillermo del Toro’s best works(Pan’s Labyrinth, Crimson Peak) The Shape Of Water would have been a classic children’s fairytale if the Beauty did not have the hots for the Beast. Bath tubs will never be a place of innocent contemplation again.