By Charles Chandler
Nominations: Nearly all including Best Picture, Director, Actress, Supporting Actor and Actress, Cinematography, Costume Design, Music, Writing, etc. etc. etc.
Are you kidding me? 13 Academy Award nominations!! Maybe I need to see this movie again. When I was thinking about watching this movie it wasn’t because of the tsunami of buzz that was building around it, but because it was written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. I love Guillermo’s works like The Hobbit and Hellboy, both on my list of all time favorite Sci-Fi and fantasy movies. The Shape of Water has some elements from the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Beauty and the Beast and Hellboy.
You remember Abe Sapien that gentle telepathic Mer-Man in Hellboy played by Doug Jones? Doug is a great actor who usually stars as non-human entities in Sci-Fi, fantasy, and horror movies. I really liked Abe in Hellboy so I thought I should see this movie since it is written and directed by Guillermo and has an Amphibian Man that looks kinda like Abe and is also played by Doug Jones.
I really hoped Amphibian Man would not be as terrible and scary as that thing in the Creature from the Black Lagoon. That movie was so horrifying until I remember putting my feet up in the seat and screamed openly in several of the scenes. It really fried my little developing brain until to this day if I am wading in any water, even the crystal clear cold spring water of the Pere Marquette River, and something touches the back of my leg I will launch straight up saying really bad words.
I am stalling here because I really don’t know how to describe The Shape of Water, much less offer a critical review. For me it is a very strange movie, sort of like a graphic novel, and had some elements that worked for me and some that really did not. However, it is a Guillermo del Toro story and did take me down memory lane and on an emotional roller coaster ride. The movie is set in the 1960s in a big city, in a couple of small flats above a rundown movie theater, and in a scary cold war type bunker that contains a top secret medical laboratory or torture chamber. Alexandre Desplat's score is pensive and bittersweet or so I am told, as I am a visual person and seldom hear the score. Production Designer Paul D. Austerberry and Cinematographer Dan Laustsen work their magic and create this steamy, swampy, watery world where you can see the condensation, smell the mold and Pine Sol that the janitorial crew uses to clean up the various body fluids that abound. The story is about those “other people” that live on the margins, those quiet, mostly minority people that use public transportation and work the midnight shift usually in the hospitality or service industry, or in the back of the big houses. The main charters in this story are Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), Giles (Richard Jenkins) and Strickland (Michael Shannon). Giles is Elisa’s complicated next door neighbor. He is a gay out of work graphic artist that spends a lot of time watching old movies on TV and flirting with a waiter at a nearby diner. One of the diner scenes will probably make you really uncomfortable. Strickland is a bad, bad man. Additionally there are some Russian spies (there are always Russian spies), and a sympathetic scientist (there is always a sympathetic scientist).
Elisa and Zelda are janitors working the midnight shift in a Baltimore-based top secret government laboratory. Elisa is mute and communicates with sign language and only has two friends. Zelda her Chatty Cathy coworker that speaks for her while on their janitorial job in the secrete laboratory, and Giles does so in their small apartment world above the dilapidated movie theater. All toil away in their lonely hidden worlds until one night when Strickland the overlord of the laboratory literally rolls in the Asset. This Asset is an Amphibian Man recently captured somewhere in the Amazon basin. Amphibian Man is worshiped as a God by the Amazonia Natives and has soon to be revealed super powers. However, first he is chained, beaten and brutally tortured with a old fashion cattle prod by Strickland, all legitimized by our efforts to win the space race and cold war. Guillermo has Amphibian Man and Strickland do a lot of heavy lifting in his movie. Murderous Strickland is a quintessential sadist, racist, bigot and misogynistic wing nut. Mysterious Amphibian Man is a helpless, chained up victim of Strickland’s brutality, a curious, vulnerable intelligent human-like wild creature that quickly picks up sign language, and a sexy albeit strange stud muffin.
Curious little Elisa finds a way into Strickland’s torture chamber and during her lunch time discovers Amphibian Man likes boiled eggs and in spite their differences is a lot like her and a friendship develops. All too soon she learns that the government has ordered the Asset to be terminated. Of course this won’t do and the mouse that is Elisa roars. She tells bigger mouse Giles, “I can either save him, or let him die.” and then it is game on.
Make no mistake this is an adult movie with profanity, nudity, explicit graphic violence, and steamy interspecies sex. If you are a cat lover be forewarned there is one scene in this movie that will give you a chill.
The emotional roller coaster mentioned earlier is because Guillermo holds the mirror up to remind us of how disrespectful we have been and can be to the “others” and that bigotry and racism were the norms just a few short years ago. Standing in front of that mirror for a few cinematic moments may not a bad thing given our current political environment and the controversy swirling around immigration, healthcare and rampart sexual abuse. Like I said, I really can’t provide a critical review of The Shape of Water. In my opinion it was a very strange movie, but some folks really, really liked for it to receive 13 Academy Award nominations. So help me out, go watch this movie and if you see me out and about please stop by and give me your opinion. Then let’s watch the Oscars and see how the experts vote.
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