Sunday, December 17, 2017

Water Water Everywhere

The Shape of Water (2017) - Del Toro
Screen Shot 2017-12-17 at 10.08.37 AM
Simpler than his previous offerings, Guillermo Del Toro's The Shape of Water is a sweet love story between gilled aquatic creature (Doug Jones) and a lonely young mute woman (Sally Hawkins). It's also a sly stab at American Exceptionalism that MAGA crowd seems to firmly believe in. The year is 1961, it's time of the Jell-Os, teal Cadillacs & missionary position. The Cold War was still raging, society still very much segregated (the film takes place in Baltimore) and conservative.

As I said before, Del Toro has a heart and imagination of a morbid school girl who'd paint her room crimson and poison cats for fun and fantasizes about falling in love with lonely beasts rather than fair-haired, blue-eyed princes. The Shape of Water is no exception. Although it's an R rated fairytale for adults, deep down, it's a more sophisticated, elaborate version of Weird Science or Mannequin.

The story goes, a merman was captured in South America (duh) somewhere. The US military transported it to a facility in Baltimore to tame it and ultimately use it in the space exploration as a lab monkey (it seems to do well in extreme conditions). If the creature does not cooperates, they'd destroy it rather than risking it falling in the hands of the Soviets.

The hardass who is in charge of the facility is Strickland (Michael Shannon), he is the epitome of American white male - square jawed, bible quoting, casual racist bigot who has penchant for violence. There is Elisa Esposito (Hawkins) a mousy cleaning lady who adheres to her uneventful, repetitive daily grind - wake up, boil eggs for lunch, masturbate in the tub, take the bus, go to work & take the bus back home. Elisa's two friends who ultimately help her - Giles (Richard Jenkins), an illustrator of wholesome product advertisements who is closeted gay and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), the fellow cleaning lady at the lab who's an African American. Then there is Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), a conscientious scientist who helps Elisa for his own reasons. Everyone is fantastic in their roles and has their moments to shine. It's been certainly a year of Doug Joneses. This Doug Jones, especially needs some recognition for his work in this.

But what's up with mutilating people's faces in his films (Pan's Labyrinth and Crimson Peak for example)? There is that too in Shape of Water. I'd love to ask Del Toro about it if I ever get a chance.

Thankfully, there are not much back stories or long drawn out expositions to any of these characters. It's Del Toro keeps things simple while slyly sliding in subversive messages - oh look, it's Carmen Rivera on TV! Ohhh, depiction of ancient slavery as the creature looks on in a movie theater! etc. Elisa conveniently lives above a grand old movie theater and Danish cinematographer Dan Laustsen's palette is all teal and orange. As always, Del Toro's world is exceptionally cinematic and beautiful.

Softer and less tragic, The Shape of Water is a rarely well balanced and most emotionally resonant film and a crowd pleaser from Del Toro since Pan's Labyrinth.

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