Winning two Golden Globes for Best Director of a Motion Picture and Best Original Score, along with five other nominations, “The Shape of Water” is a film like no other. Somehow Guillermo del Toro took an idea so unimaginable and made it feel so relatable and real. The movie was frightening and gruesome, yet incredibly beautiful at the same time.
What really made this movie stand out was some amazing acting by the cast. The main character, Elisa Esposito, is a mute woman with a rather timid, yet courageous and strange personality. With no one defining characteristic, this role is one that would already be difficult to portray. On top of that, Elisa has virtually no lines whatsoever. How could somebody with no lines portray such a complex character?
Yet, the incredible acting of Sally Hawkins along with the brilliant directing of del Toro establishes her character within less than 10 minutes into the movie. Her physicality is so breathtaking that virtually every movement takes us deeper into who she is. Her facial expressions portray to the audience every emotion she is feeling. The way she performs sign language speaks louder than words in every possible way, especially in the scene in which she tells Giles, her best friend played by Richard Jenkins, why she needs to free the creature.
Hawkins’ acting and del Toro’s directing would have been enough to tell the story, but the music in this film adds an incredible effect. Sure, good music is always great, but this music was more than good—it told a story. It seemed as if the music served as an overarching, subtle narrating voice. It did more than just match the mood of each scene—it made the intensity of the emotion feel that much more real. The songs that the audience heard weren’t just for their enjoyment—the characters were listening to the same music.
Hearing the music the characters listen to gives you more insight as to who they really are as people. For example, the songs “You’ll Never Know” and “I Know Why (And So Do You)” came to define the characters’ internal struggles, desires and heartbreaks. While audiences might not be able to relate to the idea of having a romantic relationship with a sea monster that has been captured by the government, everybody can relate to the act of listening to a song that captures all of your misunderstood emotions.
To top it off, the film uses the characters to advocate the idea that no one person has the right to undermine you or what you believe in. Because the movie is set in the 1960s and the protagonists are an in-the-closet gay man, a mute woman, an Amazonian sea monster and an African-American woman, it is clear that all of these characters had a lot of forces going against them.
This is shown to the audience through Elisa’s sexual harassment threat, Giles’ interaction with the homophobic and racist waiter and Richard’s racist remarks toward Zelda and “her people.” They all still manage to fight for what they believe in and who they are. Thus, through Elisa and the sea monster’s unlikely revival after defeat, this unconventional film wraps up with the classic theme of the underdog’s triumph against all odds.
Overall, this film is a one of a kind. While you have to have a strong stomach to bear all the violence, blood and nudity, this film is nothing but authentic. It’s intense but peaceful. It’s emotional but calming. It’s unrealistic but so real at the same time. With the amazing directing, acting and music, it is nearly impossible to question why there is so much hype around this film.