Friday, December 8, 2017


Also opening here in the Valley this weekend:

The Shape of WaterSally Hawkins stars in this romantic fantasy from the great Guillermo del Toro. She plays Elisa, a mute foundling orphan with scars on her neck who lives in an apartment over a movie theater in Baltimore in the early ‘60s. She gratifies herself in the bathtub as part of her daily ablutions, then brings food to her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), a lonely gay commercial illustrator, before leaving for her janitorial job in the bowels of a sinister research facility.

It’s at her job that she finds love, in the form of an elegantly segmented and finned Gill-man (Doug Jones). The “Amphibious Man” as the movie designates him, originated in a river in South America, where the natives worshipped him as a god.

He was captured by Strickland (Michael Shannon), a repressed, fanatical government agent who refers to him as “the asset” and wants to vivisect him for whatever Cold War advantages his body might yield. Elisa, Giles, her coworker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and a shady but sympathetic scientist (Michael Stuhlbarg) work to liberate the Amphibious Man, and along the way Elisa discovers her sexual passion for him.

Del Toro claims that as a child, he wanted to see the Creature of the Black Lagoon get the girl. This movie is the result, and it fulfilled that wish for me, too—I can also remember feeling a pang for the Creature’s romantic optimism. So I’m not the fellow to resist The Shape of Water. Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, it turns a story of unrequited love into a story of requited love.

But if it doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, if it all sounds terribly self-consciously whimsical and twee and self-delighted, then I can only tell you that, with as much objectivity as I can muster, it doesn’t come off that way at all to me. Del Toro earns his poetic passages by linking them with robust, gutsy storytelling. If it weren’t for some gore and sexual frankness, it might have made a great children’s movie.

It’s not a subtle film, admittedly; del Toro pushes his motifs, like the color green or the hydrophilic ubiquity of water, very hard. And the characterizations, especially that of Shannon’s furious reactionary g-man, are similarly broad-stroke. But the performances make them real people, and the story takes hold, as a romantic-erotic daydream merged with a period thriller merged with, in the most literal sense, a fish-out-of-water comedy.

Fair warning, though: This movie includes the fairly gruesome death of an animal. In the context of the story it makes perfect sense, and it helps to counteract the movie’s potential sentimentality, but for animal lovers sensitive to such things, this won’t matter at all.

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