Director: Guillermo del Toro
Running Time: 2 hours 3 minutes
There is a lot of hype surrounding Guillermo Del Toro’s latest offering, The Shape Of Water, hey- it’s even won the Oscar for best picture. Was it deserving of that title? In my opinion, no. Is it a good movie? Sure. It’s alright.
Opening the film, is Sally Hawkins character Eliza, a mute woman who leads a small and seemingly lonely life. She has a close friend in her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her work colleague Zelda (Octavia Spencer), but lacks any real intimacy in her life.
One day at her job as a cleaner in a government facility, a new and dangerous specimen is brought in. We don’t see what this creature looks like, but it is kept in chains in the water, and treated like a vicious animal.
Eliza is immediately pulled towards this creature, for no real reason- perhaps it’s her affinity for water. She slowly starts to get to know it, in the broadest sense of the words- by bringing it eggs and playing it music. When we finally see the Amphibian man, he looks like a scaly, almost human creature with muscles and gills galore.
Of course, no Del Toro film is complete without a strong antagonist. Michael Shannon plays government agent Strickland, a controlling, violent man with a thing for Eliza, and a strong hatred for the amphibian man. Shannon plays this role well, especially when facing off with the amphibian. It is mentioned a few times in the film that the amphibian was worshipped in the amazon by a tribe who thought he was a God. Strickland is the one who captured him from that life, and seems almost equal to him in power and strength. Strickland is the only character in the film who is not afraid of the creature, which is perhaps where this confidence comes from.
When it becomes clear that Strickland is going to kill the creature and dissect him, Eliza decides she has no choice but to break him out of the facility and rescue him. With the help of Giles and Zelda, they break the amphibian out, and move him into her apartment- and more specifically, her bathtub.
Whilst he is living with Eliza, it transpires that he is dying. The longer he is kept out of fresh water, the iller he becomes. This is one of the weaker plot points in the film- as it changes nothing. The date Eliza has set to free him doesn’t change, he doesn’t lose energy- all that happens is his scales get a little bit gooey.
At this point, the audience are supposed to feel torn for Eliza and the amphibian man. Will they manage to stay together? Will she be caught by the terrifying Strickland? Will the creature be killed? I was actually beginning to get caught up in the emotion of the film by now- until the amphibian broke into Giles’ apartment and ATE HIS CAT.
At this point the film lost me. ‘He’s a wild animal’ Giles tells Eliza. ‘What should we expect?’. And with this, the issue is swept under the carpet.
So what is the message here? Is he a wild animal, in which case Eliza is committing bestiality… or is he more than that- and just a cat killer? Either way, Eliza and the amphibian have lost my sympathy, and the movie just isn’t the same after this.
The sexuality explored in this movie is rather strange. The opening scene shows the audience Elizas morning routine. She wakes up, she boils her eggs for lunch, she gets in the bath and masturbates, then shines her shoes and leaves for work.
Del Toro has called this scene vital in the film, as he wants to make a point of depicting female sexuality onscreen. He is quoted saying ‘We are used to either never depicting female sexuality, or depicting it in a glamorized, artificial way. I wanted to show the way she dreams of water, uses water to boil her eggs, and then goes and gets in the water, and masturbates. A perfectly acceptable routine by any standards.’
My problem with this scene is only solidified by Del Toro’s comments. Had the bath scene happened after Eliza meets the amphibian man and becomes attracted to him, it might seem that through her feelings for him, she is dreaming of the water and exploring her sexuality. However, as it plays before she meets her love interest, it almost seems that she has already reached this point, and her attraction to the amphibian man is just an extension of her already established fetish for water.
This is added to by the fact that there is no real sexual tension or build up between Eliza and the Amphibian man before they consummate their relationship. It seems that they are two lonely beings, finding comfort in each others companionship- and then wham- Eliza is getting naked in the bath with him.
The movie has good intentions in it’s message of outsiders and disabilities. It even has sympathetic characters and a solid storyline. It’s just a little bit difficult to get into, and it doesn’t explain itself enough. It is open ended and everything is up for debate.