I’m not a professional movie critic, but when I watch a movie that touches me and relates to issues I feel are important, I like to share… “The Shape of Water” was that kind of movie. There wasn’t a complex plot of espionage, serial killings or carnage, it was a story about love, compassion, and acceptance.
WARNING – This review contains spoilers about the movie!
The plot: Elisa is mute. She hears but can’t speak and uses American Sign Language to communicate. The story opens showing her morning routine. When looking at herself in the mirror you notice visible scratches on both sides of her neck, which will not be revealed until the end of the movie. It’s an “ah-ah” moment. The story takes place in the 1960’s. Elisa works at a high-security facility as a cleaning lady. Her best friend, Giles, (played by Richard Jenkins) is an older gay gentleman, which has no relevance, except they both are isolated and lonely and best friends. Giles does most of the talking and Elisa listens.
The story slowly unfolds with the familiar morning routine before Elisa heads into work. Her friend at work, Zelda, (played by Octavia Spencer) interprets for Elisa, but most of the conversation is Zelda talking about work and home life. One day while the ladies are cleaning in the lab, a large tank is wheeled into the room filled with water accompanied by Stickland (played by Michael Shannon). Strickland is one mean, gruff person. He likes to torture and harass people. When nobody is looking, Elisa places her hand on the tank and something inside called “the asset”, (played by Doug Jones) starts to bang on the tank and everybody is quickly ushered out of the room. “The Asset” was caught in the Amazon waters and is said to be “a God” with special powers, and it breathes in water and out for a period of time. Strickland tortures it with a cattle prod daily and when Elisa finds out and is mortified. Strickland summons Zelda and Elisa to his office and assigns both the task of cleaning the lab on a daily basis.
But Elisa’s curiosity gets the best of her and she sneaks into the lab every afternoon and she and “the asset” form a special bond. She teaches him sign language and feeds him eggs. It’s not so much the spoken word but the words that are unspoken that tell the story. One day she trapped inside the lab she overhears Strickland and General Hoyt (played by Nick Searcy) discuss plans for “the asset” that terrifies and upsets Elisa. So she devises a plan to save “the asset”. One of the doctors, a Russian spy, (played by Michael Stalstuhlbarg) wants to save “the asset” but his comrades want him to kill it rather than let the Americans destroy and dissect it.
Elisa enlists the help of her friend, Giles, who under protest at first eventually does help her. When Zelda becomes suspicious of what Elisa is planning, she helps, too. The doctor finds out about Elisa’s plans and decides he will help her. They succeed removing and saving “the asset” and it’s brought to Elisa’s apartment. However, it needs water to survive, so Elisa fills the bathtub with water and salt and a special mixture was given to her by the doctor to help “the asset” survive until it will be released. While living with Elisa, they form an unspoken bond and you can feel the love and respect they have for one another. Each different, yet each the same all done without speaking, but with touch.
I’m not going to spoil the ending for you, it was beautiful! Just when you think all is lost, you will be surprised at the end. This is a story about true love and friendship, being different or feeling that you are different and out-of-place in our world. The film delves into man’s ability to be ruthless and violent for nothing other than if for no other reason looks, beliefs, or disability. We learn about compassion, love, and acceptance. At times you are thinking to yourself, “what in the heck?”! While based on fantasy, the elements portrayed in the story are as real today as they were back in the ’60’s.
I’d love to know your thoughts if you were able to watch the movie. Did it move you? Did it speak to you? Can you relate it to the world today like I did?
My conclusion is this movie sets out front and center we must all strive to accept one another for who and what we are and be tolerant of differences. If we can accept each other, think of better the world would be.