They say the third time’s the charm, and it took this reviewer three attempts to see Guillermo Del Toro’s latest and greatest ‘The Shape Of Water’. Before I express to you, dear reader, what a beautiful experience watching this film was, I must express that it has been far too long since I have been in a theater. So long, in fact, that I was shocked to hear that online ticket purchasing was the reason my first attempt at E St Cinema was awash, as well as the following night’s attempt at the AFI Silver Theatre. I was shocked that this movie was sold out, two night’s in a row, at two different theaters no less. I asked how could this be? Online ordering. The movie time had been sold out for hours already. Fool me once, shame on me, fool me twice, shame on me, I won’t get fooled again!
Armed with less ignorance and the pride of two defeats to sit in the dark and be entertained, I made my next attempt my best attempt. Taking to the internet, I ordered my ticket from the AFI Silver website, and then I placed an order with Local’D; a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie dough jar with an all around mood on the side. It arrived, as always, within an hour’s time. With preparations complete, I packed a spoon, and took the elevator to the movie. And wow, what a movie this was!
Set in Baltimore, MD in the early 1960’s, ‘The Shape Of Water’ hits close to home in personal ways that will leave you, or at least it left me, in tears, but also in social and historical ways that are spot on reflections of today’s chaos of American culture. Writers Del Toro (Pan’s Labryinth, The Strain) and Vanessa Taylor (an award-winning ‘Game Of Thrones’ writer and author of ‘Divergent’) present their story as a fairy tale, as a story of a mute princess and the god who took her as his lover, and in doing so present some incredible truths masked as fantasy. This type of story telling is wonderful when done with this much care and respect. It breaks down the audiences defenses (or least mine) in such a way that the climax is truly climactic, devastatingly sad and immensely joyous, in one last embrace between lovers on the screen. It is so beautiful.
A government oceanic research facility has just received an ‘Asset’ that may be exactly what is needed to get the edge on space exploration over the Russians, who have an agent inside the American research team to prevent that from happening. From this unfolds the story of our princess Elisa Esposito (played by actress Sally Hawkins) a mute custodian at the facility who gets a glimpse of the ‘asset’ when it arrives, and must clean up the blood from when Colonel Richard Strickland, the man in charge (played by actor Michael Shannon) has two of his fingers bit off by this asset, this merman, this fish monster (played by Doug Jones), this thing that doesn’t speak but is like a man in more ways than one, and a connection is made between the two. A deep, innocent, fairy tale kind of love begins. Throughout this love story, we meet other characters trying to express who they are for acceptance and love, whether it is Elisa’s advertising artist and middle-aged gay neighbor, or being an under appreciated spouse in an empty marriage like Elisa’s coworker Zelda Delilah Fuller (played by actress Octavia Spencer), and even the Colonel who truly believes to be created most in God’s image as a powerful and power-hungry white man who needs his new car to say to the world that he’s important.
Told in tried and true cinema tropes like song and dance to express what words cannot, a breakout and chase scene, the final showdown at the zero hour, to name a few, but Del Toro delivers these in such a classic and clever way that makes these tropes truth. The minute you see Strickland say he wants a new car, you want to see it get fucked up, and that car gets some great justice dealt to it, as well as its win-by-any-means owner, don’t you worry. And yes, it has a happy ending, as movies most often should, but that doesn’t mean the manner in which this ending is presented, and its definition of happy, is anything less than satisfying. Forget ‘less than satisfying’, I’ve already told you, dear reader, how I felt at the end of this film; in tears, feeling weight and levity in an intense and unexpected way that reminded this reviewer that I have feelings, and they work!
The struggles, subplots, and the development of every character makes the destiny of the fish monster, or as one character’s last words utter, ‘fuck, you really are a god’, and Elisa so fulfilling, and yes, so devastating at the same time without being tragic, just, beautiful. I don’t want to say too much on the details of the film’s happenings, best to be experienced for oneself. GO SEE THIS MOVIE, especially on the big screen, it’s visually stunning with a wonderful score, phenomenal acting, an AWESOME fish monster, and the flooded bathroom scene just won’t have the same depth at home as it will with 40feet of flooding. The experience of this movie was more so much more than watching a movie, it was an experience. ’The Shape Of Water’ is beautiful, truly beautiful, and I can’t recommend it enough. Peace!
-Forrest A. Hainline IV