The Shape of Water Review: Strange, poetic, wonderful
In an age of dialogue and story-driven films, Guillermo del Toro brings magic back to cinema
"If I spoke about it, if I did, what would I tell you? Will I tell you about the time, it happened a long time ago it seems, the last days of a fair princess' reign. Or would I tell you about the place? A small city near the coast. But far from everything else. Or I don't know, will I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you about the truth of these facts and the tale of love and loss and the monster who tried to destroy it all."
This narration is part of possibly one of the most surreal opening sequences for a film ever. The camera enters what seems like an ancient house buried deep in the sea, with chairs swirling around the dinner table and a human floating daintily above a worn sofa, and as the narrator stops, everything slowly settles down firmly on the ground as sea turns into land. And just like that, with that opening shot, Guillermo del Toro establishes the tone for what is going to be a film that combines various genres including horror, romance, musical, and noir.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg
The story, plainly speaking, is simple. It's set in the early 60's, and is about a princess without voice, Elisa (a delightful Sally Hawkins), who is also a neighbour to a closeted artist, Giles (a majestic Richard Jenkins). She works in a government facility as a janitor with Zelda (an exuberant Octavia Spencer). This facility houses secret goverment projects and one of these arrive in the form of an amphibious man (Doug Jones) captured by Strickland (Michael Shannon) and called as an asset. While Strickland is inhumane in his treatment of the creature, Dr.Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) is sympathetic and wants to understand it better. What happens between these mix of characters and their motives forms the story.
In an age of dialogue and story-driven cinema, Guillermo del Toro brings back magic into cinema. Elisa and Giles live in an apartment above a theatre, where there are biblical epics being showcased alongside musicals. But the theatre owner doesn't get people to watch them because they are now into their television sets. Giles, who lives above the theatre, is one and is content to remain in his room watching Bojangles and Shirley Temple do the stair dance in The Little Colonel. The theatre manager gives two tickets to Elisa to ask her to come watch the movie but she never does. But in one poignant scene, the creature, when it escapes, stands alone in the empty theatre and watches a biblical epic wide-eyed. There are at least two other remarkable sequences, including a dance sequence in all the glory of black and white. The fact that the sequence makes you laugh aloud, while also making you wonder makes it all amazing.
Beginning from the choice of font colour, the visuals are striking in its use of green. The rich production design and Dan Laustsen's cinematography that almost paints the entire movie in a shade of green lends it an otherworldly, fairytale-ish charm (and just as well, given the Beauty and the Beast inspirations). In a film featuring a character who doesn't speak, dialogues are naturally few and far between. The Shape of Water is a visual storytelling masterpiece, and music by Alexandre Desplat makes for an elevated experience.
“Unable to perceive the shape of you, I find you all around me. Your presence fills my eyes with your love. It humbles my heart, for you are everywhere.” This poem that the narrator ends the movie with is in essence what the Shape of Water is. It's strange, but somehow, it's poetic too.