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It’s the love aquatic in The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins stars in charming film created by Guillermo del Toro that has director’s trademark surrealism and is stunning to gaze at

16 February, 2018 — By Dan Carrier

Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Certificate 12a

GUILLERMO del Toro has created a sumptuous love story, which draws on Hollywood’s boy-meets-girl classics – but with his trademark surrealism throughout.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is the cleaner at a secret government establishment who walks into a laboratory armed with a bucket and mop to find a scaly, man-like creature sloshing about in a green slimy tank full of water.

She develops an attraction to the beast and as its fate at the hands of ruthless agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) becomes darker and darker, decides she must do something to help.

With her friend Giles (Richard Jenkins), a struggling, gay advertising artist, and her co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), she hatches a plan.

This is a love story set on a Cold War stage. It’s riddled with the paranoia of the period, and includes X-Files CIA characters, Reds under the Bed, an alien-like life form and nods to the space race. But, above all, it is a touching tale of attraction and affection. Elisa’s relationship with Giles, her next door neighbour, two loners who rely on each other for support and company, is all about gentleness. They are admirable heroes.

And while the film tacks its way through a plot to an obvious ending, it has enough charm to keep you interested in seeing the inevitable play out.

Del Toro has a beautiful visual imagination – it’s been his calling card in films such as Pan’s Labyrinth – and it is expressed here in every shot. The Shape of Water is stunning to gaze at, full of period detail that has been hyper-sensitised.

Then there is the music: this is a film that draws on the song and dance of Hollywood’s Golden Age and has plenty of Benny Goodman playing throughout.

While sending up US Cold War politics, it celebrates the culture of the nation’s cinema. It even includes a skit where Elisa expresses her emotions by flying into a Jerome Robbins-style dance routine.

There are nods to the Civil Rights era and homophobia to tip the idea of societal norms on their heads.

Here, the idea of being “normal” means nothing: the strait-laced man in a smart suit, with two perfect children and a wife at home, has often been presented as a paradigm of the regular guy in American culture.

Instead, those who are considered to be “outsiders” – a mute single woman, a gay man, and a scaly beast fished out of the Amazon – have more humanity than the McCarthyite defenders of the Stars and Stripes.


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