Love and Monsters:
Best Picture Winner
“The Shape of Water”
is a Film You Must See
By Mikhail Lecaros
Given most traditional award-giving bodies’ disdain for genre films, it is nothing short of incredible that we live in a world where a Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim, Hellboy)-directed-love story between a mute janitress and a fish man was able to claim four Oscars (including Best Picture and Best Director!) from a whopping 13 nominations.
The Shape of Water opens in 1962, where we meet the aforementioned janitress, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins, Paddington). Elisa is a gentle soul with a relatively quiet life, starting her days by pleasuring herself before watching classic musicals with her freelance artist neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins, Step Brothers). Evenings are reserved for work, which, for Elisa, means clocking in at a top-secret government research facility. On duty, her best friend and companion is fellow janitress Zelda (Octavia Spencer, Hidden Figures), who makes up for Elisa’s lack of speech by being as talkative as possible.
Despite working in the sort of place that probably makes death rays and radioactive spiders by the dozen, it is the arrival of a specimen, referred to as “The Asset” – played with silent dignity by Del Toro regular Doug Jones (TV’s Star Trek: Discovery) – that catches Elisa’s attention. Captured in South America and delivered into captivity by the cruel Col. Richard Strickland (Man of Steel’s Michael Shannon), The Asset resembles a cross between the classic Creature From the Black Lagoon and Hellboy’s Abe Sapien (whom Jones also played).
LOVE IN A HOPELESS PLACE
As the nights wear on, Elisa begins to care for the creature, her compassion standing in direct contrast with Strickland’s brutal handling of it, a feeling that is only exacerbated when she learns of its ability to communicate. With Strickland’s bosses eager to dissect the creature as research to beat the Soviets in the ongoing Space Race, Elisa is forced to take matters into her own hands. What follows is a race against time as Elisa and her friends try to outwit the military, the FBI, and a group of Soviet spies in her quest to free her now-beloved fish creature.
Portrayed as the ultimate innocent (albeit one with a penchant for eating cats and slicing off body parts), The Asset is nothing, if not sympathetic. As depicted by Jones’ unerring talent to wordlessly convey dignified vulnerability, one is willing to suspend disbelief and go along with the drama unfolding. Compare this with the frankly caricature-ish nature of Strickland, and it’s clear which one you’re supposed to root for.
Speaking of Strickland…