The Shape of Water

The ordinary and the extraordinary converge seamlessly in Guillermo Del Toro’s artful fantasy, The Shape of Water.

The British actress Sally Hawkins stars as a mute night cleaner who falls in love with a mythical amphibian thing who was dragged out of the muck of the Amazon rainforest. Hawkins’ character, Eliza Esposito, works in a top-secret laboratory run by the U.S. military. She’s a lively, intelligent and sensitive soul, but because she’s incapable of speaking, most people take her for granted and confine her to the margins of their attention span.

Doug Jones as the sea creature

Only an African-American co-worker, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a gay neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), and the slimy monster itself (Doug Jones), a supposed river god revered by native tribes deep in the trackless jungle, treat Eliza with the respect, dignity and affection she so richly deserves.

In terms of its inspiration, this technically adept movie harkens back to the 18th century fairytale, Beauty and the Beast, the 1970s horror film, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the silent films of Charlie Chaplin. Being a consummate craftsmen, Del Toro shapes the material into a fantastical story that seems real on an everyday level. I don’t care much for science fiction, but The Shape of Water drew me in inexorably.

Eliza, played wonderfully by Hawkins, lives in a funky flat, listens to 1940s big band music and conforms to a rigid morning routine. Having boiled eggs for breakfast, she lowers herself into a bathtub and pleasures herself.

At the lab, a vast, impersonal space guarded by armed sentinels, she grows fixated by the sight of a strange figure in a steel cylinder. Later, the creature, tethered to a chain, is moved to a pool larded with salt. Eliza, being kind-hearted and curious, leaves an hard-boiled egg for it on the side of the pool. This is the beginning of  a beautiful friendship.

As Eliza will learn, the creature from the depths faces dire danger.

Michael Shannon mistreats the creature

Strickland (Michael Shannon), the lab’s scary chief of security who mistreats it, is under orders from a U.S. general to have it dissected. Bob/Dimitri (Michael Stuhlbarg), a Russian spy masquerading as an American scientist, has been instructed to kill it. Disagreeing with the order, he aligns himself with Eliza in a bid to save it.

Eliza enlists the assistance of Giles, a commercial artist whose career seems to be in jeopardy. They abduct the creature, take it back to Eliza’s apartment and deposit it in a bathtub full of salted water. As they ponder a rescue strategy, Strickland methodically plots his next move.

Sally Hawkins develops a crush for the creature from the deep

As the drama unfolds, Elisa falls head-over-heels for the monster, who reciprocates her romantic ardor in touching fashion.

Viewers must suspend their critical faculties to appreciate, much less enjoy, The Shape of Water, which is informed by unfettered imagination, uninhibited romance and an abiding dedication to soothing music that keeps the blues at bay.