Film review: The Shape of Water

It’s like an escapist dream that takes you through a feel-good adventure.

(Photos: Fox Searchlight Pictures)

A storyline set in Cold-War America in a top secret government facility is the last place you’d think a love story would stem from. The Shape of Water is an unexpected delight which has all the forbidden romance of a fairytale with realistic themes of isolation, sexism and bigotry. This fantasy drama won Oscars for best picture, as well as best achievement in directing, music written for motion pictures and production design. It was nominated in nine other categories, including best actress.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa, a mute cleaner who keeps to herself and lives a fairly straightforward and lonely existence until an aquatic beast is brought to the facility. She is strong, but not in the typical sense. Her strength lies in her vulnerability and bravery in expressing what is truly in her heart. Hawkins was clearly able to make Elisa’s presence felt without words.

Hawkins make Elisa’s presence felt without words

In the tank, the amphibian man with luminescent blue skin looks like a god of the ocean with his muscular and defined body. It took four men to squish Doug Jones into his sea creature suit. 

As odd as an interspecies relationship sounds, Elisa and amphibian man’s bond is formed through their lack of a spoken language. They communicate with sign language and find common ground through kindness, much like Beauty and the Beast (without all the singing cutlery). There’s a mutual understanding, an acceptance of each other, flaws and all. Through their trials you find yourself rooting for them, hoping that the girl gets the (fish) guy.

The Shape of Water deals with toxic masculinity against the backdrop of the 1960s, when being a man meant being aggressive, rough and controlling towards subservient females. Good fortune favours the gentler and kinder men who value friendship and doing the right thing over the need to prove their masculinity. This modern shift in redefining gender roles in a love story is refreshing and positive.

Octavia Spencer (right) plays Zelda, a cleaning lady in a Cold War U.S. bunker

Viewers feel the underlying melancholy, with a glimmer of hope, throughout the movie. It’s like an escapist dream that takes you through a feel-good adventure. The fluid cinematography is hypnotic, especially with the interlaced poetry of Richard Jenkins’ words as Elisa’s neighbour Giles, drawing you in from the moment the show begins until it ends.  


Director Guillermo del Toro
Cast Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones
Running time 123 minutes


'The Shape of Water' opens today at GSC  Mid Valley, Pavilion KL and 1 Utama. IOI Putrajaya from Mar 22 onwards.

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