Thursday, February 22, 2018

The Shape of Water (2017) Review

Since becoming a huge fan of film, I've heard so many great things about Guillermo del Toro and in particular, his film Pan's Labyrinth. For some reason though, I have just never got round to watching it. Shocking, right? I think in terms of film and their genres, I always used to stick with what I knew and not give certain films a chance at all. I've always kind of sat on the fence a little bit when it comes to fantasy films because I believe that they are very hit or miss, but after hearing so many great things about The Shape of Water, I decided I had to take myself on a date to the cinema and watch it. I also am that person that likes to try and watch as many Academy Award-nominated films before the big day and The Shape of Water has done exceptionally well, scoring thirteen nominations, which is only one short of La La Land's huge nomination victory last year.

"It doesn't get more personal than 'Shape of Water' for me. I am the proudest of it. It's my favourite movie that I've done."
- Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water (2017) is set in 1960's Baltimore, during the Cold War. It follows Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) who is a mute woman and communicates through sign language. She's working as a janitor in a top-secret government laboratory when an aquatic creature is captured and brought to the government facility. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) has high hopes that it will help the U.S. in the Space Race. As Elisa and her co-worker, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) are janitors at the facility, it gives them access to areas that should usually, be strictly for government employees only. Subsequently, Elisa makes secret visits to the see the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) and realises that she can communicate with him through sign language and music and thus, a relationship between the two is formed. During one of her secret visits, she discovers that Strickland is torturing the creature and so she sets on a mission to free him before he's killed. 

The Shape of Water is essentially a love-letter to the golden age of cinema, more specifically, musicals and features snippets from the likes of Shirley Temple and Bojangles in The Little Colonel (1935), Betty Grable sings 'Pretty Baby' in Coney Island (1943) and we also see That Night in Rio (1941) and The Story of Ruth (1960). As well as this, there are many other homages to cinema throughout the film, such as when Elisa dances with the broom at work, it's a clear nod to Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding (1951) and later on in the film, when Elisa imagines her musical number with the Amphibian Man, this is also another clear nod to the film Follow the Fleet (1936) and if you know me, there's nothing I love more than when films reference other films.

Many people that have seen The Shape of Water, quickly liken the story to Beauty and the Beast, more so the 1946 version, which is more of an adult fairytale version than the Disney classic. Guillermo del Toro himself said that he got his inspiration from films such as Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) Frankenstein (1931) and King Kong (1933). He said that he used to watch these films from a very young age and fell in love with the idea of the women actually falling in love with these "monsters" and having a happy ending. The Shape of Water is simply those horror tales reimagined into a love story. He also said he wanted the 'beauty' in the film to be someone who is unique and beautiful but not a perfect princess so that she could be relatable to the viewer. He was also set on her falling in love with the creature for who he is, without having to undergo a transformation like in Beauty and the Beast because that's what love is all about, loving someone for who they are, flaws and all.

Aside from the main story, I completely fell in love with the subtle themes, sub-plots and character arcs that were so strongly built throughout the film and this was probably down to del Toro writing lengthy backstories for each character, some of which were apparently over 40 pages long and as a result, the performances from everyone were completely faultless, but the two people that made the film for me were Sally Hawkins for her exceptional portrayal of Elisa; even though her character never spoke a word, her voice was still the loudest of them all and I loved that so much. And the other is Richard Jenkins for his portrayal of Giles, a gay man struggling to find his purpose. His character supplied some very needed comic relief but also some other very poignant moments.

Throughout the film, there's a strong theme of many of the characters feeling incomplete in their lives, whether it be a void of feeling empty, something they haven't been able to achieve or something they desire but can't seem to reach. Elisa feels incomplete because she's mute and feels like everyone sees her as less of a person and she even goes on to express that's why she feels such a strong connection to the Amphibian Man because he doesn't treat her that way. "When he looks at me, the way he looks at me... He does not know, what I lack...Or - how - I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I - am, as I am." Giles is a gay man, struggling in his career as an illustrator and feels like he's lost all purpose in the world, unsure of how it all went so wrong. Even the films villain, Strickland, seems to feel unfulfilled in his life. On the outside, it shows that he has the stereotypical, heteronormative lifestyle; with a wife, kids and the flashy car but even he shows that he still feels incomplete and not fully in control of his life. I think with this film, it's important to remember that it's so much more than just an unconventional love story.

As I've never seen a del Toro film before, I didn't really know what to expect visually but I was blown away, it's a visual masterpiece. The production design is absolutely beautiful and it's even BAFTA award-winning now. Each set and environment was so highly detailed, you could tell a lot of thought had been put into it. Production designer Paul Austerberry explained that they wanted "Everything in Elisa's world to somehow be defined by or literally shaped by water." And this makes a lot of sense, considering the colour palette is very blue and green, this alongside the incredible cinematography that is also reminiscent to the shape water makes, it brings it all to life.

My favourite thing of all though has to be the score, which is so enchanting and completely magical and something that I've been listening to non-stop since I watched the film. Composed by Alexandre Desplat, I think it really changes the tone of the film and brings the narrative to life. The first few minutes of the film when The Shape of Water theme plays and Giles says "
If I spoke about it- If I did- what would I tell you, I wonder?" I had complete goosebumps and just knew I was going to absolutely adore this film and I wasn't wrong. 

To conclude, The Shape of Water really is such a stunning piece of cinema
and I feel like there is so much more that I could say about it but I've tried to keep it as spoiler-free as possible. This is filmmaking at its best and I cannot believe it has taken me this long to watch a 
Guillermo del Toro film, he sets the bar extremely high and I'll admit I did have a little cry when he won best director at the BAFTAs. This is one of those perfect films that reminds us why we go to the cinema because you don't get the same form of escapism at home. Please, please don't be put off at the unconventional love story and go and see this while it's still in theatres, you won't be disappointed!

"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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