Film: The Shape of Water
Cast: Michael Shannon, Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, Doug Jones, Nick Searcy
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Rating: * * * *
Hollywood never addresses the hatred coming from Jewish extremists or the ideology of Islamic terrorists. Christians though are set up as villains with impunity and the latest to join the long line of the villainous is Richard Strickland, the Bible-spouting Korean War vet essayed by that fine, but increasingly typecast actor, Michael Shannon in Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar front-running fantasy drama.
“Does God look like this creature?” he asks black sanitation worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) alluding to the merman (Doug Jones) he’d brought to Baltimore in the US from South America. “No. God could even look like you, but he probably looks like me.” (white man, he)
If God has made us in His own image as the faithful believe, should it not then, be incumbent on believers to manifest that divinity? If anything, Strickland’s behaviour is diabolical: Torture, murder and rape threats to Elisa Esposito, the mute cleaning lady (Sally Hawkins, fantastic) who has bonded with the amphibious creature, comes easily to Strickland who could well be a latter-day clone of the infamous Grand Inquisitor, Torquemada who mandated torture/death for heresy.
For Strickland, the fish-man is an “asset” which must be vivisected for research purpose, for Elisa, it/he is something/someone to love and be saved and in this noble if illegal endeavour, she finds helpers in Zelda Delilah who plods through an unhappy marriage with a layabout and homosexual artist Giles (Richard Jenkins) who is longing for love.
Assuredly, the expression “Love is blind” is fleshed out sympathetically by del Toro in this sumptuous, beautifully shot inter-species romance which viewers would have earlier seen in Avatar, Beauty and the Beast and King Kong. Love, true love, then is caring for the person beyond his or her appearances/deficiencies. This simple, basic truth lies at the heart of The Shape of Water and is even enhanced by a sub-plot featuring Soviet spies (the setting is the early sixties at the height of the Cold War)
Writer-director del Toro crafts spies with decency. The real, awful monstrosity is Strickland who spouts Scripture, specifically the Old Testament (The story of the temptress Delilah and Samson, later blinded in Gaza) Even the movie theatre Orpheus, located below Elisa’s apartment is screening a love story, “The Story of Ruth”, which suggests the direction Toro’s narrative will take. I should also say The Shape of water is very gory, very sensual, very intense and ultimately, whether you like it or not, very compelling.