I’ve always been a fan of fairy tales and this extends to fairy tale reimaginings. As such, I was automatically intrigued by the concept of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which was marketed as The Little Mermaid in reverse. It was different. It was darker than most fairy tales, but its message was as pure as the hearts of its two main protagonists and I think, that is what matters the most.
Synopsis: Eliza (Sally Hawkins) is a mute who lives in an apartment on top of a old theater and works as a cleaner for a laboratory. Her life is a series of routine chores and events. One day, she discovers that a precious cargo being kept at the facility is actually a merman (Doug Jones) who is being abused by a ruthless military officer (Michael Shannon). After she strikes up a friendship with the creature, she learns that the government is planning to kill him for research. Eliza employs the help of her two friends to break him out of the lab and set him free.
I knew that things were bound to get weird when I first saw the trailer for The Shape of Water so I was pretty prepared for the expected inter-species love story. However, the weirder thing was that even though there were obvious physical differences between Eliza and the creature, their relationship felt very natural and unfolded just like any other tale of love, only with fins, gills, water tanks, tubs and a lot of old timey music.
I think the success of the love story was because of the fact that the film was able to establish Eliza and the merman’s similarities from the very beginning instead of focusing on their differences. Audiences immediately related to the connection they felt with each other using only non verbal communication to develop their relationship.
Sally Hawkins was amazing in her portrayal as Eliza. Without using words, she effectively conveyed her character’s loneliness, her fears, her hopefulness, her passion and her love for the creature who accepted her fully for what she was. I was completely blown away by her how she pled her case to Giles when she asked him to be her accomplice.
Doug Jones, after starring in over 150 movies as a creature of some sort, is an expert in non verbal communication as well and has the perfect bone structure for these creatures that he portrays. His chemistry with Sally was so on point that audiences feel compelled to root for them to have a happy ending.
Michael Shannon has proven time and again that he can be a mean villain when he wants to and this time was not an exception. Although, I admit — I would have wanted his character to have been smarter and more intuitive instead of just plain mean. Had he caught on to the clues sooner or had he suspected Eliza sooner, the sense of danger would have been more palpalable and made the suspense more real.
FRIENDSHIP GOALS. Find a friend who will eat keylime pie with you everyday, commit a crime for you without batting an eyelash and won’t judge you for having relations with a creature from the deep.
I loved the relationship that Eliza had with her only two friends — her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her co-worker Delilah (Octavia Spencer). They may have been few in number but in terms of quality, Eliza hit the jackpot when it came to having friends who treated her like family. Even Dmitri became an unlikely ally.
A major plus for me was the excellent cinematography and musical scoring that set the tone for Eliza and the creature’s love story. Perfection, it was.
All in all, the most fitting description I could think of for The Shape of Water is that it was just plain beautiful. It takes a lot of skill to get the audiences invested enough in a story to believe in its possibilities, to raise their hope and get them to focus on what could be than what could not. This film had no beautiful princesses, and no handsome prince. Nor did it have an all star cast that could guarantee box office success. What it did have was love, loyalty, friendship, and a kinship that spoke to the heart. What it did have was a tale that moved with its sincerity. And even though it was portrayed as a fantasy, it was relatable in the contemporary as its message was universal. And that is what made this film so beautiful.