THE SHAPE OF WATER
Guillermo Del Toro likes to makes monster movies where one has sympathy for the monster. They are outsider films (Ill get more to The Shape of Water as Del Toros ultimate outsider film below). He speaks about how The Shape of Water emerged out of talks with Universal over conducting a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Del Toro was always intrigued by the one scene where The Creature seems to flirt with and touch Julia Adams from beneath the water and wanted to create a version where that hint of romance was fulfilled. Universal rejected this take and so Del Toro went away and wrote his own version. (You get the impression that not too much has been changed with this version of the Gill Man even retaining its origins in the Amazon).
The Shape of Water is the first film in which Guillermo Del Toro can be seen to openly address sexuality. Aside from the romantic outpourings in Hellboy II, it is never an issue that has much featured in any of his films there are not even the token romantic connections between the leads you usually get in a film. He certainly makes up for it here you are quite taken aback by the opening scenes that show Sally Hawkins masturbating in the bath. In a typically Del Toro-esque way, the first actual expression of sexuality we get in his universe is a romance between a human and a sea monster (which sounds like more a description of a Japanese tentacle porn manga). Loneliness and the need to reach out to another seems to be a connecting feature of all the characters in the film from Sally Hawkins unloved mute to Richard Jenkins closeted gay man cruelly rejected by the mores of the era to Octavia Spencer caught in a loveless marriage, while Michael Shannon (representative of all the films bad aspects) is seen having sex with his wife ignoring her protests and to be (the Hollywood touch button issue of the moment) sexually harassing Sally Hawkins at one point.
What also strikes about The Shape of Water is that it is Guillermo Del Toros most outrighly political work yet (something else we have never seen in his films before). He described it as a film about what is wrong in America at the moment. Michael Shannons government agent is symbol of all said ills he is introduced in his second scene wielding an implement of torture (and readily seen employing it throughout); makes casually racist comments in Octavia Spencers direction, alongside classist comments that treat the working class cleaners as beneath him; can be seen sexually terrorising Sally Hawkins at one point; and acts an enforcer for a general who opines his God given right to kill intelligent lifeforms. Oh and he is seen reading Norman Vincent Peales The Power of Positive Thinking (1952), which became the best-selling handbook fairly much synonymous with aspirations to corporate achievement during the films period, not to mention has a scene where he purchases the eras big status symbol of a Cadillac. Hes also the only character in the film who has a family ie. is synonymous with Family Values, characterised by obedient children and a wife who is dutiful to the point of putting up with (what is implied) her husbands unreasonable sexual demands.
What is rather fascinating is the people that Del Toro assembles on the other side of the coin in direct opposition to all the aspects of toxic America/Family Values/patriarchal hierarchy that Michael Shannon embodies. Most of the group seems made of minorities Sally Hawkins is handicapped and is given the surname Espositio, which would appear to make her a Latina (even though Hawkins is British in real-life); the African-American Octavia Spencer who becomes the butt of dismissive racial comments from Michael Shannon; the closetedly gay Richard Jenkins who is harshly driven out of a diner (and quite possibly his job) for openly expressing such; and, surprisingly enough, Michael Stuhlabarg, who is revealed to be a Communist spy, albeit one with humanist sympathies that puts him at odds with his taskmasters. (The inclusion of the latter among the cadre of good guys comes as a surprise given how Communism has been regarded as the antitheses of all that is American).
Boiled down to a level of pure plot and putting Guillermo Del Toros individualistic touches aside, The Shape of Water is a surprisingly conventional film. The plot feels almost like a rehash of E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) lonely kid/woman befriends/finds love with a creature, she and those she calls family conspire to spring the creature from the custody of evil government agents who only want to dissect it and eventually help it return home. You could just as easily regard The Shape of Water as a grown-up version of Splash! (1984). The story of people (usually kids) who break into a well-guarded laboratory/government facility to rescue non-humans creatures became a well-worn trope in numerous copies of E.T. throughout the era it is almost as though that entire plot element has been extended to become the whole film here.
Guillermo Del Toro creates a beautiful film. His last handful of films as director have made lush and exquisite use of production design elements. Here he places a great deal of attention into getting the early 1960s period from the cars, theatres and Richard Jenkins treacly ads to the worn everyday texture of the apartment and laboratory. Del Toro invests much in the scenes with Sally Hawkins communicating with the creature. There are lovely and magical scenes of them swimming in naked embrace together in a flooded bathroom while the water overruns into the theatre beneath them (although the realist in me finds it hard to wonder if she is not slightly daft in being unable to calculate that flooding a bathroom in water would mean that it would all have to go somewhere). In his most eccentric touch, Del Toro gives Hawkins a daydream scene where she imagines herself and the creature taking place in an old-fashioned 1930s style black-and-white dance number. Sally Hawkins gives an amazing performance that runs between fragile vulnerability and rising to emotionally plaintive strength in particular in the scene where she silently pleads with Richard Jenkins to help her rescue the creature. And all given without the use of any dialogue throughout.
Guillermo Del Toro also co-writes The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014). Del Toro has also produced other genre works like Chronicles (2002), Hellboy Animated: Sword of Storms (2006), Hellboy Animated: Blood and Iron (2007), The Orphanage (2007), While She Was Out (2008), Julias Eyes (2010), Splice (2010), Dont Be Afraid of the Dark (2011), Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011), Puss in Boots (2011), Rise of the Guardians (2012), Mama (2013), The Book of Life (2014) and Kung Fu Panda 3 (2016), as well as the tv series The Strain (2014-7) based on his novel.