What Would PETA Say About The Shape of Water?
There’s no question that Guillermo del Toro is a cinematic genius, and The Shape of Water proves to be one of his most unique creations yet. The director is mostly known for his stunning bizarre visuals that range from dreamlike to almost nightmarish. This time around del Toro uses his talents to create an ethereal love story that questions the depths of the emotion and what it is truly capable of.
Set during the peak of Cold War paranoia, The Shape of Water essential asks, “What would happen if they captured the Creature from the Black Lagoon?” Many fans of del Toro will recognize similarities between his newest creature and Abe Sapien from the Hellboy series, which he also originally director. This though is not the charming intellectual that audiences might know from that comic film though, replaced by what can only be described as an animal. However, that isn’t to say that it is a beast, rather that it is an animal like man’s best friend. One that is thinking, feeling, and capable than so much more than cold-hearted science might give it credit for.
Contrasting this miracle of nature that can be seen swimming through the water with the grace of a ballet dancer, is the lab it is caged in and the men studying it. The antagonist of the film is played by Michael Shannon, who has proven that he is one of the best actors in Hollywood when it comes to playing the worst possible people. The Shape of Water has him playing a government G-man, patriotic almost to a sadistic degree putting the “needs” of his country ahead of everything and destroying anything that might threaten them. The threat, in this case, is Elisa Esposito played by Sally Hawkins, a custodian in the lab that develops a strange bond with the creature due to her being mute.
I’m not going to lie, I’ve been looking forward to The Shape of Water all year. After seeing it though, I’m a bit conflicted about how I feel overall. There’s no question that it isn’t one of the best movies I’ve gotten to see in theaters in 2017 (something I find myself saying a lot towards the end of most years), and is filled with brilliant performances from not only the leads, but the supporting cast of Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins (who I think delivered one of the best supporting actor performances of the year). However, the film does have some taboo elements to it. Most of which arise from the nature of love that Elisa and the creature share. I’m woke enough to say that anyone has the right to love anyone else no matter race, gender, religion, identity or anything else. But can the same be said of amphibians?
There is a certain beauty to the love portrayed in the film, mostly because it isn’t just the love between Elisa and the creature, but every character in it shows a certain type of love. Spencer looks out for Hawkins character in a way that borders between best friends and almost motherly. Jenkins serves as a father figure who seems to only want the very best for Elisa and to see his “daughter” happy. Shannon’s love for his country comes in the form of unflinching loyalty. Of course, the love Elisa shares with the creature is that love that none of us can help. The kind that just seems to sprout and grow the moment someone magical crosses your path, even before you know their name.
The Shape of Water might not be for everyone given the themes and questions it asks, but I do believe that anyone with an open mind will see the beauty of it, even if they don’t agree with it. It’s very much like del Toro’s previous film, Pan’s Labyrinth in that it unfolds very much like a fairy tale. Jenkins reminisces about the story asking, “If I told you about her, the princess without voice, what would I say?” Fortunately though, del Toro is a filmmaker that never forces his characters to say anything, instead, he has them show it.
While there might be some other movies in theaters now that throw around the word “hope” in an attempt to inspire audiences, I don’t think any other film this year has embodied the raw concept so well. The Shape of Water is a movie that is ahead of its time in many ways, but with how backward the world seems today, it’s a movie I think we all need to remind us of the feeling behind that word. Even if that feeling comes in the form of woman-amphibian love. Let’s just hope PETA doesn’t get involved in the story.