“The Shape of Water” Delights with Endearing Depiction of Love
Issue   |   Tue, 02/13/2018 - 20:19
Photo Courtesy of cinezapping.cpm
Sally Hawkins’ performance as Elisa Esposito is charming, convincing and has earned her an Oscar nomination for Best Actress, one of the film’s 13 nominations.

Set during the height of the Cold War, “The Shape of Water” tells the story of Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins). The film opens with Elisa’s daily routine: every day she makes breakfast, bathes and polishes her shoes before heading to work, where she serves as a night-time janitor in a government laboratory. Mute and only able to communicate with others using sign language, Elisa lives alone and her routine remains unchanging. She has two friends — Giles (Richard Jenkins), her next-door neighbor and artist who is ostracized from society due to his homosexuality, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who also cleans at the laboratory and acts as Elisa’s translator, all the while complaining endlessly to Elisa about her unappreciative husband. Despite these companionships, it is easy to see that Elisa is unfulfilled; at the beginning of the film, she has a faraway look in her eyes, always wishing for more than just the ordinary.

Everything changes when an unidentified tank arrives at Elisa’s workplace, said to contain “the most sensitive asset ever to be housed” in the facility. The “asset” turns out to be an amphibian creature captured in the Amazon by the vile Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who incessantly abuses the creature with an electric cattle prod. Elisa’s curiosity and sympathy bring her closer to the creature, leading her to visit him in secret, and eventually they fall in love. She describes their connection in one sentence, saying “when he looks at [her], the way he looks at [her]… he does not know … [she is] incomplete.” Their relationship becomes threatened when Strickland wants to euthanize the creature and dissect its body, claiming the discoveries will help the U. S. one-up the Soviet Union.

Elisa, with the help of her friends Zelda and Giles, as well as the kind-hearted scientist Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), succeeds in stealing the creature away from the facility before the procedure, but the group must then deal with Strickland, who will stop at nothing to get his plaything back in his grasp.

“The Shape of Water” leads the 2018 Oscar race with a whopping 13 nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Sally Hawkins and a Best Director nomination for Guillermo Del Toro. Sally Hawkins, previously best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in “Blue Jasmine” in 2013, portrays Elisa with irresistible charm and intense desperation. She is endlessly endearing and manages to be convincing in every scene, signing and tap-dancing her way out of her silence. Octavia Spencer delightfully portrays her fiercely loyal best friend Zelda, and Richard Jenkins delivers a heartbreakingly real representation of a person who’s been deprived of love his entire life as the lonely Giles. Some of Michael Shannon’s scenes seemed gratuitous, especially the one where he goes shopping for a new car, but nevertheless he is the perfect villain — gruesome, violent and increasingly crazed.

Even common fairytale tropes do not feel very common in this film, which combines elements of “Beauty and the Beast” with director Del Toro’s reimagining of “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” The movie portrays a team of society’s outcasts (especially in the 1950’s) — a mute, a black woman and a gay artist — as heroes, while the establishment is vilified and exposed.

It is a poetic story capable of making us believe in true love. The message is especially relevant in today’s society, where we are constantly fighting the battle against established societal norms. The film’s title is rehashed with a particular resonance in its ending lines: “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.”

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