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assistance of American sign language and some subtitles helpfully placed near her hands
(for the more eye-weary viewer), she shows curiosity, cheeriness, kindness, passion,
rebelliousness and plenty more. It ’s this very combination of personality traits that leads
Elisa to forge a relationship with an equally silent fish-man, brought into the facility for
some very ethical and harmless study.
Just kidding; they treat him like a scientific punching bag of course. This creature is never
given a proper name, or even classified as a species, but is simply referred to as ‘the
asset’. If you’re having a hard time picturing what he might look like, imagine the Creature
from the Black Lagoon, as designed by Abercrombie & Fitch.
What follows is a burgeoning romance between human and fish-man, complete with
intrigue, espionage, friendships and freedom. On the surface, this is a straightforward love
story, but the fishy themes aren’t the only thing that’s fresh about this movie.
Guillermo del Toro’s directorial fingerprints are all over this one—dark surrealism, horror
elements and grim set-pieces abound. Unusually however, Shape of Water takes the
time to indulge in pleasant, pointless moments of innocent joy, found in an impromptu
tap-dance or an old man’s adorable crush on a handsome pie shop worker. What really hit
home for me though, was this staggering, ever-present contrast. I was lurched between
whimsy and gritty at the tip of the scale, which begs the question: is this movie optimistic
or pessimistic? Which further begs the answer: why not both?
A strong supporting cast adds several elements to this mix of contrasting themes and
ideas. I won’t dwell on each of them, but I’d like to give a special shout-out to Elisa’s oh-so
loveable neighbour Giles, hot contender for world’s loneliest man, and most deserving
of a spin-off. All the side characters are unhappy in their own unique ways, struggling to
resolve their problems, be it personal or professional. But when the supporting cast get
past their individual issues and involve themselves in Elisa’s plans and aspirations, they
leave their problems behind in favour of a common goal: helping a fish who’s out of his
depth (it ’s okay to laugh at that, no one’s looking). Elisa’s glass-half-full approach to life is
what really makes her endearing to the characters and viewers alike. She and the asset
are practically deaf and blind to all the terrible things around them because they only
have eyes for what they want: each other. I would even liken their romantic innocence to
children, surrounded by miserable boring adults.
The most miserable adult of all is found in a ‘Christian’, racist, sexist villain whose life looks
like it began in a Norman Rockwell painting. The thing is, this guy is so cartoonishly evil
that I actually couldn’t believe he was the real antagonist of the movie until close to the
end. What I expected, you see, was some bait and switch along the lines of him actually
being a good guy or that there was a secret, even worse villain waiting to burst out from
behind a curtain—more fool me for not giving the film enough credit. This may be a
simple sort of a story, but it differentiates itself with its unique style and tone, and doesn’t
have to rely on something as arbitrary as a plot twist.
Okay, I can’t put this off any longer. Let ’s talk about what most, but not myself, would
consider to be the actual point of this movie: the relationship between Elisa and the asset.
There’s been a lot of divisiveness regarding the controversy of a love between something
human and something decidedly not, but then that is how a boring adult would look at it,
isn’t it? This is a fantasy, mate, and we’re here for some good old-fashioned escapism.
The problem I’m having here is with the asset himself, in that he doesn’t seem to be
holding up his end of the relationship. As I said before, Elisa’s personality drips from her
every pore, but she seems to be emoting for the both of them. Having found someone
who doesn’t judge her for her disability and sees her only for her, Elisa develops deep
feelings for the asset. “When he looks at me, the way he looks at me, he never knows I’m
incomplete,” she signs, emotionally.
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