‘The Shape of Water’ gives hope to those without a voice

Brian Lang

Michael Shannon, Octavia Spencer, and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water (2017). Photo by Kerry Hayes
Brian Lang

The Academy announced its nominations for the 90th Academy Awards last week and the front runner is Guillermo del Toro’s breathtaking film “The Shape of Water” with a staggering 13 nominations.

Starring Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, and Richard Jenkins, “The Shape of Water” explores the theme of loving the unloved in this modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast. This poignant drama is a beautiful hybrid of monster movie and fairy tale that is relevant to the prejudice-filled world of 2018.

Set in 1960s Baltimore, “The Shape of Water” tells the story of Elisa, a mute janitor at a top-secret research facility. Her life is routine and simple, guided by her friends Zelda, an unwavering African-American woman played by Octavia Spencer in top form, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), her next door neighbor who is a struggling artist and closeted gay man.

They provide her with a small sense of community and belonging. Every evening she awakes to work the midnight shift at the mysterious lab as she has done for a decade. One night, when cleaning up a gruesome spill, Elisa encounters a violent “monster” – reminiscent of “Creature From the Black Lagoon”- trapped in a tank. Instead of being afraid, she feels a connection with it, since they are both voiceless and misunderstood. Their intimate friendship evolves into a blossoming romance as Elisa secretly visits the creature during her lunch breaks. When the top brass at the facility order the creature to be euthanized and studied, Elisa must decide whether to remain in the shadows or fight for the helpless.

“The Shape of Water,” if nothing else, is a clarion call to action. The audience naturally sympathizes with Elisa, Zelda and Giles as they seek to find their voice. The characters fight against racism, homophobia and harassment echoes the battle for equality being waged today. “The Shape of Water” may be labeled a fairy tale, but the characters struggles are all too relatable.  

Besides being a powerful fable about the dangers of prejudice, “The Shape of Water” is a beautiful movie to experience. Del Toro thrills in painting with infinite shades of green. From the janitor’s teal uniforms to the endless variations of the hue that are reflected in the damp halls of the lab, green glimmers constantly.

Sally Hawkins’s brilliant performance of the silent Elisa is one for the ages. She effortlessly portrays the immense depths of her character, never letting the audience wonder for a second what is going through her mind.

The haunting score by Alexandre Desplat provides a moving backdrop to both the thrilling and pensive moments on screen and serves as a voice for the creature. The film perfectly balances the quiet beauty of a more “artsy” film, with the action and tension of a classic historical thriller.

“The Shape of Water” is especially germane in 2018. It demonstrates the importance of fighting for those without a voice and encourages the voiceless to unite and promote change. For those willing to step out of their comfort zone, “The Shape of Water” is a stunningly beautiful must-see.

Rating: 9/10