“If I spoke about it – if I did – what would I tell you? I wonder. Would I tell you about the time? It happened a long time ago, it seems. In the last days of a fair prince’s reign. Or would I tell you about the place? A small city near the coast, but far from everything else. Or, I don’t know… Would I tell you about her? The princess without voice. Or perhaps I would just warn you, about the truth of these facts. And the tale of love and loss. And the monster, who tried to destroy it all.”
I have to echo that sentiment: If I wrote about this movie, what would I tell you? It’s not easily encapsulated. There is so much to say about it – I could go on and on and on – but even by the end I don’t think I would have managed to fit everything in. And I don’t want to bore you.
I anticipated this movie for months and all that waiting paid off, because it is a beautiful film. The set design, the costuming, the music. The cinematography! Fittingly, this is a movie that leaves you feeling submerged. From the very first scene, the presence of water and darkness is haunting yet gorgeous.
I can’t pick a favorite actor, because they were all so good. Although Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is the protagonist, you don’t really get the sense that the secondary characters are, well, secondary characters. They weren’t afterthoughts, hastily added to the plot. Or at least they don’t feel that way. They’re just as integral to the plot – and just as complex – as Elisa. And because they were given so much to work with, the supporting actors shine.
(Side note: I love that the protagonist shares my name in a way. I can’t remember the last time I came across a heroine who wasn’t Lizzy Bennet or Queen Elizabeth I!)
(Side note #2: Um wow I’m really gay for older women? I knew that before I ever saw this movie but yeah Elisa is super cute aaaaah unironically hashtag blessed.)
I love the way this movie pushes back against the notion that the ideal or normal protagonist is a straight white guy. Between this and Black Panther, which I saw on Friday, I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about representation and changing the status quo lately.
There are certainly straight white men in this movie, but they don’t belong to the cast of characters we cheer for most. This is a story about a mute Hispanic woman and her gay male roommate, her black female coworker, and… well, all right, a fishman. (A manfish? The creature from the black lagoon? WE JUST DON’T KNOW.) It’s about the kind of people who usually don’t get to be main characters, let alone anything more than caricatures.
I can’t help but compare this movie to del Toro’s 2006 Pan’s Labyrinth, even though I know I shouldn’t. I mean, they’re two different films. And Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my favorite movies of all time, so to some extent there was never any way The Shape of Water, however good it was, would ever live up to that earlier movie.
I do appreciate the cinematography and music in both. The way they each reject the repressive elements of society at the time, whether they be Spanish fascists or the WASPs of the 1950s. The darkness and frank handling of violence. I have so many questions, too, about del Toro’s fascination with fairy tales because uhhhhh big fuckening mOOD.
At the same time, though, upon a first viewing I don’t think this movie holds together as well as Pan’s Labyrinth. (I wanna watch it again eventually, though, jsyk.) It’s better than most I’ve seen lately, but there’s something about a movie where each piece clicks into place so beautifully and no scene is extraneous or wasted that makes chills run down my spine, you know?
But those are small potatoes. Well, one small potato. A fingerling tater! The Shape of Water isn’t a perfect movie, but it’s pretty damn close. And definitely one I’ll think about for some time to come.
P.S. Yeah, she does fuck the fish. You’ve been warned. Only del Toro could make such a movie and have it be artsy af…