The Shape of Water

FORREST IRVINE

Guillermo Del Toro’s modern classic The Shape of Water is the most recent recipient of the Academy Award for Best Picture. This is a triumph for genre filmmaking, as only one other fantasy film, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, has won Best Picture in the past. This win is also, in other ways, not surprising. The Shape of Water honors classic film in a way that few other films can, by re-capturing the monster movie formula, mixing in a ton of references to old Hollywood in general, and adding in a splash of gore and sexuality to date it in the modern era. Sally Hawkins shines in an affecting lead performance as Elisa, a mute woman working as a janitor in the underground level of a government facility in 1960’s Baltimore. Elisa discovers a fish creature being held in the lab and forms a connection with it over their shared seeming “lack of voice”. Octavia Spencer co-stars as Dolores, Elisa’s best friend also working as a janitor. The film has supporting performances by Richard Jenkins as Elisa’s neighbor Giles, a closeted gay art designer struggling to find work because of his social standing in an unforgiving time, as well as Michael Shannon, as Dr. Strickland, Elisa’s supervisor holding the fish creature hostage of experimentation who is a classic movie villain but not without complexity. Strickland’s character follows the archetype of the “All-American Man” striving for the American Dream in the ‘60’s but portraying him in the morally mixed light that was actually the truth of that time. The character arcs of Elisa, Giles, and Dolores are thoroughly fleshed out; all three of them represent facets of personal voicelessness in a universal way, as well as cultural and social voicelessness in a way a bit more specific to the ‘60s. Overall, The Shape of Water is a moving, multi-layered, and entertaining instant classic for fans of all kinds of film. 5/5 stars.

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