‘The Shape of Water’ leaves staff reporter with mixed feelings

Lucy Potter, Staff Reporter

Guillermo del Toro, director and writer, is popular for his fantasy/drama/romance/action/etc. combination films, and he has brought yet another to the table. Partly romantic fairy tale and partly government-top secret-monster movie, The Shape of Water fits into the multi-genre del Toro collection perfectly.

A mute Eliza Esposito, played by Sally Hawkins, works a night-shift cleaning the floors and bathrooms of a government science research facility. Likely due to the close-minded mentality of the early 1960s, Eliza’s best friendsindeed her only friendsare two other disadvantaged and discriminated against individuals. They are Zelda, played by Octavia Spencer, a black woman she works with, and Giles, played by Richard Jenkins, Eliza’s gay neighbor that works as a graphic artist and painter.  

Moments after meeting him, Eliza and Zelda witness the new head of security, government issue macho-man, Mr. Stickland, played by Michael Shannon, bleeding from multiple wounds. As they watch men in lab coats wheel a huge fish tank into a big laboratory, they are told they have 20 minutes to clean the bloody mess. Eliza’s curiosity gets the best of her, and she taps on the fish tank glass. A Creature of the Black Lagoon-esque fish-man taps back. During the following weeks, Eliza secretly eats lunch with the piscine creature; feeding him eggs, playing him music and teaching him sign language.

During one of these lunch-capades, Eliza overhears the head scientist, Robert Hoffstetler, played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and Mr. Strickland disputing over the future of the fish-man. Mr. Strickland wants to kill him to be dissected, while Robert wants to keep him alive for further research.After a series of different events, Eliza has, oddly enough, declared her love for the amphibian man.

The general plot of the film was not unique, and a bit predictable. That is to say there was the archetypal evil villain, helpful stranger, jolly sidekick, likeable protagonist, a star-crossed love and all the foreseeable actions that go along with those. With reference to the specifics of the plot, however, it was quite unusual. An interspecies relationship that doesn’t seem to shock any of the characters was interesting to see, albeit a bit over-the-top. And it was impressive to see Hawkins act without speaking.

The dark, muted coloring, outfits, furniture, buildings and the fish-man himself made the movie total eye-candy. The visual aspect of the film was probably the most creative part.

In addition to the great aesthetic and mediocre plot, there was some mild social commentary. Throughout the movie there were homophobic and racist remarks used casually towards Giles and Zelda. Though none of the other characters ever say anything or stand up for them, leaving me unsure of what it is trying to express. Maybe something about “group mentality” or how society normalizes horrible things.

With aesthetic and technical bestiality being the highlights of the film, I’m not sure that del Toro got the intended message across, but that being said, it was not a bad film.