As we get closer to Oscar night (March 4 this year), the time for seeing the nine ‘Best Picture’ nominees is slowly, yet surely, reaching to a close. Whether certain films are still being screened a week or two after that fateful event is up to the studios distributing these films, and how comfortable they are booking more screenings after the winners are announced; which is why I am glad to have finally got a chance to see Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’. Nominated for thirteen Oscars including Best Picture, ‘The Shape of Water’ is a romantic fairy tale for adults that only the man who directed both ‘Hellboy’ and ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ could come up with. I especially have heard that this has been a passion project of his for quite some time. It may just be another ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tale, only this time, it is an homage to creature features from the fifties (‘Creature From the Black Lagoon’), and a love letter to the golden age of cinema while somehow being drenched in fifties nostalgia.
Billboard ads, black-and-white television footage, and home and restaurant interiors are scattered throughout, immersing audiences in a time when people were just as curious of the unknown, and as judgmental of certain orientations and races as they are today. If there is one thing that period films have taught us, it is that the times may have changed – with the invention of modern technology and an understanding of others’ differences – but the attitudes and certain prejudices of yesteryear still remain in the hearts of those who have not embraced change. Jordan Peele gave us an eerie, satirical look at modern-day prejudice with symbolism in the horror hit ‘Get Out’ (Another ‘Best Picture’ nominee), while in ‘The Shape of Water’, Del Toro manages to wrap its commentary up in a monster movie that is as beautiful as it is sweet.
Our star-crossed lovers are in the form of a mute janitor named Elisa (Sally Hawkins), and a sea creature credited as Amphibian Man (Doug Jones), but known simply as a “thing”, “creature”, “God”, or as Michael Shannon’s ruthless bible-referencing Colonel Richard Strickland, an “asset”. What this creature is, or where it comes from is the reason why it was brought to the Occam Aerospace Research Center (Where Elisa works); being called by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) as the key to defeating the Russians in the Cold War, and striking an interest in Elisa, as she tries communicating with it through sign language, music, and the gift of hard-boiled eggs she cooks every morning before work.
Eventually, all that time spent turns into a race against time, as she discovers the facility’s plans to dissect it for scientific research. Seeing how lonely they both are, Elisa decides to plot an escape plan with the help of her two best friends – co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and friendly neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) – in order to keep the creature safe, and eventually, release it. What results is a romance that will either touch and amaze you, or weird you out. It most likely will be the former.