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  • Writer's pictureSajeev Varghese

"The Shape of Water": Unpack A Cinematic Masterpiece



Step into the extraordinary with "The Shape of Water," Guillermo del Toro's ravishing and eccentric masterpiece that spills artistry, empathy, and sensuality from every open pore. This decidedly adult fairy tale, about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and an uncanny merman, careers wildly from mad-scientist B-movie to heart-thumping Cold War noir to ecstatic, wings-on-heels musical. With each dizzy genre turn, del Toro masterfully keeps an unexpectedly classical love story afloat, offering more straight-up movie magic for your money than just about any Hollywood studio offering this year. Buckle up for a cinematic journey that defies convention and celebrates the transformative power of storytelling.


At one unexpected moment in Guillermo del Toro’s virtuosic film, "The Shape of Water," the characters break into a song. The lights dim, the colors drain to black and white, and Sally Hawkins’ otherwise mute Elisa takes Doug Jones’ unnamed creature by the hand. The two begin hoofing old Hollywood-style in a musical number set to the old standard “You’ll Never Know (Just How Much I Love You).” This magical moment, like many others in the film, showcases del Toro’s ability to blend fantasy with emotional depth, making "The Shape of Water" one of his most stunningly successful works and a powerful vision of a creative master feeling totally, joyously free.





Set in ever-rainy Baltimore of 1962, the film is one part love story, one part Cold War thriller, and one part exploration of American culture – and that’s before we even mention the monster. Well, a monster to some anyway. Hawkins’ Elisa, who works the overnight shift cleaning a top-security government base, looks at the sea creature being kept there and sees a kindred spirit. Mute and orphaned since birth, Elisa knows what it's like to be overlooked, misunderstood, and unable to speak out. They connect.


In the heart of "The Shape of Water," we are immersed in a tale that is anything but ordinary. This decidedly adult fairy tale about a forlorn, mute cleaning lady and an uncanny merman takes us on a wild ride through genres. From the eerie tension of a mad-scientist B-movie to the pulse-pounding intrigue of Cold War noir and the joyous lift of a wings-on-heels musical, del Toro navigates these shifts with masterful ease. Sally Hawkins delivers a heart-clutching silent performance, her expressive eyes and gestures speaking volumes. Alexandre Desplat’s swirling score lends the film a lyrical dialogue, elevating every scene to new emotional heights. This is del Toro at his most rewarding and richly realized, crafting a narrative that feels as timeless and enchanting as a classical love story, yet fresh and vibrant in its execution.





Believability: The film's setting and period details are meticulously crafted, creating a believable world where the extraordinary can seamlessly exist alongside the mundane. Del Toro’s Baltimore is a place where outcasts and misfits find solace and connection, and the film’s believability is rooted in its careful attention to historical and emotional authenticity.


Emotionally Engaging: "The Shape of Water" is a masterclass in emotional storytelling. The romance between Elisa and the creature is tender and profound, transcending the boundaries of language and species. Hawkins' performance is all eyes and hands, conveying a world of emotion without a single spoken word, while Jones’ portrayal of the creature is equally captivating, his movements and expressions filled with an other-worldly grace.


Intellectually Compelling: The film offers rich allegorical layers, touching on themes of otherness, acceptance, and the intersection of love and fear. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, it explores societal intolerance and the human capacity for empathy and cruelty. Del Toro weaves these themes into a narrative that challenges viewers to reflect on their own perceptions and biases.


Relevance: Despite its fantastical elements, "The Shape of Water" remains deeply relevant. It addresses contemporary issues of marginalization and the struggle for acceptance, resonating with audiences who see parallels in today’s world. The film’s exploration of love and connection in the face of adversity offers a timeless message of hope and resilience.


Meaningful Impact: The film’s impact lies in its ability to blend the fantastical with the deeply human, creating a narrative that is both a fairy tale and a poignant social commentary. Del Toro’s direction, combined with the stunning performances of the cast, ensures that "The Shape of Water" leaves a lasting impression, inviting viewers to look beyond appearances and find beauty in the unexpected.

"The Shape of Water" never develops on one single front. While Elisa smuggles jazz records and hard-boiled eggs for her bestial new beau, the Cold War still rages. Russian double agents and sadistic American army men butt heads over what to do with the creature. The film becomes a kind of heist movie for a spell, as Elisa and her cohorts scheme to get the creature to safety while competing military types plot its demise.





Artistic Direction: Del Toro's tight directorial control creates a sensation of floating through the film, enhanced by Dan Laustsen’s ethereal cinematography that finds a thousand shades of green, amplifying the dreamlike fairytale atmosphere. The actors give wonderfully humane, lived-in performances, with Hawkins and Jones using different kinds of silent acting to bring their characters to life. Hawkins is all eyes and hands, while Jones is all pantomime and movement, making their performances lighter than air.





Through its deft utilization of storytelling frameworks and unwavering commitment to craft, "The Shape of Water" remains a timeless masterpiece. Its narrative brilliance serves as a beacon of inspiration for aspiring filmmakers and storytellers alike. As we continue on our own creative journeys, let us look to "The Shape of Water" as a guiding light, reminding us of the transformative power of storytelling done right. The film’s optimism, freshness, and emotional honesty elevate it beyond the typical life-story drama, leaving audiences enchanted and inspired by the magic of Guillermo del Toro’s visionary storytelling.





As the curtains fall on Guillermo del Toro's enchanting opus, "The Shape of Water," we are left basking in the glow of its unparalleled artistry and emotional depth. This film, with its wild genre swings and intoxicating blend of romance and suspense, stands as a testament to the transformative power of storytelling. Del Toro's visionary direction, coupled with exquisite performances and a narrative that resonates with timeless themes, reminds us why we love cinema. "The Shape of Water" is not just a movie; it's a celebration of imagination, empathy, and the enduring magic of love. Let it inspire us to see beyond the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary in our own storytelling journeys.

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