by Samuel Abels
Society is used to stories which defy its expectations and cultural norms. Ironic. While that remains ingrained in us, even presented at the most obscure fashion possible, the lovers of cinema and a good story still thrive on the notion of the traditional romance: man and woman, happiness, sadness and possible parental disapproval. As much as audiences might sob over the affairs of the young in their pursuit of something greater than self-investment, the entirety of the concept loses itself in age-old cliches, until a familiarity builds and a certain exhaustion at witnessing these escapades sets in. This is where films such as “The Shape of Water” arrive, sweeping us away to uncharted cinematic territories.
The bulk of the film is centered around a lonely, young, mute woman named Eliza Esposito, whose occupation is set as one of the numerous cleaning ladies at a United States government research facility in 1962 Baltimore. The location itself seems perfectly fine on the surface, until the viewer is exposed to what occurs in the confines of a certain section of the facility: a laboratory. As it turns out, the current head of the facility, a cold, racist, sexist and vain Michael Shannon-portrayed character by the name of Strickland has captured an “asset” on an expedition in South America. Their goal is to keep this “asset” out of the hands of the Soviet Union.
It is quickly revealed that whatever they’re holding in the laboratory is less than a man, but it has no issue walking like one. The asset is revealed to be an amphibious creature that is as animalistic as they come, but upon Eliza’s initial interaction with the being (she feeds it eggs), it soon begins to realize it can trust at least one person in this unfamiliar environment. Eliza continues a regular pattern of visitation with the amphibious creature, offering up eggs, dancing as well as introducing it to the concept of music. As time passes, Strickland becomes more aggressive with the creature, opting to take it out of its tank and electrically torture it, his overall mission being to kill it. Once Eliza notes this, her true feelings for the amphibious man begin to show, and she teams up with her apartment neighbor, a closeted gay illustrator named Giles, to sneak into the facility and liberate the creature. They narrowly escape the facility, gaining the help of one of the researchers along the way. Dr. Hoffstead is secretly a Soviet agent who would rather study and understand the creature than murder it like his Russian superiors would have happen.
Eliza keeps the crearure in her apartment bathtub, keeping it nourished and alive with salt and water. For the average moviegoer, this is where things begin to appear as bizarre. The two begin a sort of relationship, at one point leading Eliza to flood her bathroom and seemingly mimic the appearance of a tank as they swim freely and embrace. The thing also begins to exhibit strange powers, healing a wound on Giles’ body while glowing blue all across its form.
Strickland, feeling pressure from his military superiors to get his hands back on the asset, goes on a mad spree of murder and threats in his bid to track down the creature and return it to the U.S. military’s hands. More or less, he doesn’t get his wish.
Eliza and her amphibious friend begin to realize their bond is deeper than the very water it dwells in, and they make things work.
This movie works It’s a cold and cruel oddball flick that’s sure to attract those who have more alternative tastes in their entertainment preferences. Overall, in an era where sweeping change and potential hostility to those who are different rings very true, it presented its message in perfect form without outright checking off every social justice point it could squeeze out. There wasn’t black, white, gay or straight, but instead, it focused on the idea of differences. If there’s one thing that anyone who watches this could take away from “The Shape of Water,” it’s that those who truly love you will not care about all the bumps and bruises, but instead, accept you as you are. That’s an extremely powerful sentiment.
5 out of 5 stars.
Photo credit: MovieWeb