The Shape of Water is all Enfolding

In his review of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Roger Ebert described it as a fairy tale for adults. Well Roger, the director of fantastical cinematic imagery has given us another one. Compared to Pan’s Labyrinth, this is a simpler and less horrifying tale. The Shape of Water is a delightful love story with a gratifying, requiting end.

The Shape of Water is set during the Cold War, in 1962 U.S., inside a high security, science research centre. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) oversees a new arrival from the Amazon (South America that is), a monstrous beast, and if he cares to really examine the creature with an appreciative eye, a beautiful Amphibian Man (clandestinely played by Doug Jones). Yes, the reverse of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid.

In the research centre is Dr. Holffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who has to tend to his covert mission, it is the Cold War after all, but from a scientific point of view, does have an appreciative eye for the creature.

The Shape of Water (1)

At the bottom of the rung are the janitorial staff, Elisa and Zelda, and with them the story comes alive. Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer’s duo performance is worth your movie ticket. They are the heart and soul of the story, something which the villain lacks. As a fairy tale, we can identify who that is right away, and the irony of who the monster is quickly becomes apparent.

Elisa is mute, she cannot speak but can hear what you say, so be careful. She knows a language that you’ll need a translator to understand, so be careful about that too. Thanks to Zelda, her official interpreter, she knows what not to translate as Elisa speaks her mind to ruthless Strickland.

Elisa’s neighbour is Giles (Richard Jenkins), an artist who does appreciate the Amphibian Man. He is of immense help to Elisa, a faithful friend to her despite endangering his own life. As a fairy tale, we see the good among the characters in sharp contrast to the villain.

As she cleans the facility, Elisa soon comes to appreciate the Amphibian Man, and the creature soon relates to her as she is, not as a handicapped, low-ranking cleaner. The two forge a bond stronger than any dangerous obstacle. The film moves into the second half as a thriller and leads us to see how love overcomes such obstacles. Love not just between the two obvious characters, but from those built upon friendship and mutual respect. As for the Amphibian Man, he is more powerful than just brute force as the story reaches its climax.

As the Awards Season is well underway, all leading to the finale, the Oscars, we see The Shape of Water gaining tremendous momentum. Among other accolades, it won the AFI Award for Movie of the Year, two Golden Globes: del Toro for Best Director and Alexandre Desplat for Best Original Score, and just received 12 BAFTA nominations. While Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer both get acting noms, they face strong contenders such as Frances McDormand (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) and Saoirse Ronan (Lady Bird).

The Shape of Water is a simple depiction of human longings and our universal need for connection. It’s a fairy tale love story and not a treatise on controversial subjects for debates. It offers some interesing cinematic visualization, like the beginning scene of Elisa’s apartment under water. The underwater romantic rendition towards the end of the movie, coincidentally, elicits another indelible cinematic moment from my memory, an underwater love scene also involving a woman who cannot speak, a film with which Marlee Matlin won her Best Actress Oscar with her heart-wrenching performance, and that’s Children of a Lesser God (1986).

Surely, water, the shape of it, all enfolding, is the main idea, for that’s what love is like.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples



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If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Creator of Ripple Effects, bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

18 thoughts on “The Shape of Water is all Enfolding”

  1. Have you seen the film “David and Lisa”? There are some parallels both to this film and to “Children of A Lesser God.” It can be found on Turner Classic Movies; I’d forgotten it until someone mentioned it the other day. I think this is one I’d go see.

    I missed “Loving Vincent” when it was in Houston. I found it exactly one day after its last showing at the museum. For some reason, I have to see that film. It’s going to be released on January 16 (I think) and I’ve got it on preorder.


    1. Linda,

      No I haven’t seen ‘David and Lisa’ but will look out for it upon your recommendation. I’ve seen the trailer for ‘Loving Vincent’, and it’s showing now in my City. But for some reasons I don’t feel the urge to go. The whole idea of it doesn’t appeal to me that much, makes me think of a paint by number project. Anyway, if this one goes to your area, do go for it: “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.”


  2. I’ve seen this and Three Billboards, and probably give the edge to Three Billboards, particularly for its script, but my what great films both are, and what great endings both have. Wish we could talk more about those. I plan to see Lady Bird as soon as it opens here. My Californian friend loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. WG,

      I’m with you about Three Billboards. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen in recent years. And you’re right, the script, and also the spot-on acting from FM, SR, and WH. (Too lazy to type their full names). Will write a review on it next. I think this one will go all the way to winning the Oscars.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is one on my list. I think Sally Hawkins can do anything. Did Richard Jenkins die recently or am I thinking of someone else? With a cast like that and a Desplat score there’s a lot to love even before you go into the movie theatre.


      1. Well, I saw this one last night and I sent an email to Suzanne with one line — I dare you not to cry. This film is everything you say it is. The performances are remarkable, the production design perfection. And so many moments. These days I tend to crave stories about relationships and these are the best. Friends who care, friends who see beyond the surface, friends who are willing to go out on a limb for what is ultimately right, even if it appears wrong. Seeing for who we are. Fighting the system to make right. There is, if one looks at it, something boldly political here for our day and time but it is also just pure love, good over evil.

        The violence wasn’t so much as I expected and unfortunately, necessary. And some gems of scenes. I will never, for the rest of my days, forget the black and white dance sequence. Poetry.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Have to tell you Arti, I went to see this movie based solely on YOUR review! It was amazing and I was not disappointed. I LOVED every part of it, but the technical aspects blew my mind. I suspect it will have a long list of nominations next week from The Academy! Thank you for giving me a reason to see something spectacular! ❤


  5. Nice review. I loved this film a lot, but the thing which impressed me most here is Shannon’s acting. He was such a great villain. I think he was so good he should have been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor by the Academy.

    Liked by 1 person

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