By Rosanne Isaac
The Shape of Water is a whimsical tale that unravels against the backdrop of the Cold War–era Baltimore. Mute janitor Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) forms an unlikely relationship with an amphibious creature held captive at a top-secret government research facility.
“The Asset”, as the minders refer to this aquatic monster, is imprisoned in a tank at the lab where he is brutally tortured in the name of science and national security. Elisa empathises with the creature; her colleagues also tirelessly ostracise her as “incomplete”. When Elisa visits the captive, she plays jazz records and feeds it hard boiled eggs. Eventually, she falls for the Amazonian amphibian.
Guillermo del Toro portrays this interspecies romance in a way that is so natural, pure, and spellbinding, that the audience can’t but helplessly fall in love and root for the characters romance to blossom and develop further. There is an absence of awkwardness between the couple. Neither Elisa or “The Asset” possess the power of speech, but they can communicate through gestures and since both can hear, music. This element within the film, of two individuals finding common ground within their faults, is a perplexing take on the traditional fairy-tale. Anyone who experiences The Shape of Water will have their hearts and minds captured by this bizarre, peculiar and usual relationship.
Elisa’s two best friends are Zelda (Octavia Spencer), an African-American woman who works with her, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a gay man who lives next door. These characters introduce depth to the film; the underemphasised, intuitive sympathy among these outcasts gives this film some political depth. They add on to the story that unfolds and are typical of del Toro’s work. Although del Toro has immersed himself in large-scale, franchise-ready filmmaking, he has never succumbed to the authoritarian aesthetic of the Hollywood blockbuster. He is a reflexive democrat whose underdog sympathies haven’t solidified into a cause for a change in his motives. Guillermo del Toro has yet again produced a riveting, eccentric film just as good as his 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth. The unique style of Guillermo del Toro films are truly something to behold. Del Toro enchants the screen with a plethora of extravagant costumes, sets and special effects. The narrative is this essential foundation of human credibility, however outlandish the overlying circumstances, that gives del Toro license to crank up the aesthetic stylisation to eye-popping degrees, creating a masterpiece for the viewer to thoroughly enjoy.