“The Shape Of Water”

Water makes room for whatever it surrounds, and Guillermo del Toro’s new film “The Shape Of Water” makes room for a lot. Not only does del Toro write and direct, but he also dubs some of his imaginative sea creature’s vocals. A fable, a fairy tale, an allegory, a 1940’s musical with 1960 Cold War spy underpinnings, no matter. It is a delight held together by an unusual romance, beautiful cinematography, and actors who seem to love their roles.

The score under Alexandre Despalt’s direction splashes our psyches with just the right tempos to keep us smiling and cowering in equal measure. Del Toro is the kind of man we all want for a friend. He applauds art, understands sex, is masterful, funny, campy, and frank. He seems as magical as the art he creates. Guillermo’s Mexican Catholic upbringing pushes toward a humanist warmth that encompasses amphibian creatures and cats.

The “Shape Of Water’ begins with water bubbles, sea grass and lab lights, and morphs into floating furniture~mid-century kitchen table and chairs to be exact. Our narrator in a crome-like voice muses: “ If I spoke about it , what would I tell you?” We are hooked.

Our setting is in a coastal city, far away. Baltimore! Our  protagonist, a princess without a voice~ a mute mop girl, Eliza. ( Sally Hawkins)  Our theme is a tale of love and loss transformed.

Eliza lives over a movie theater. She has two close friends, a gay, out-of-work artist, Giles ( Richard Jenkins) , and a loyal work friend, Zelda ( Octavia Spencer). Zelda and Eliza have a Fascist boss (Michael Shannon), who taunts a specimen with a cattle prod and  loses two “tater-tot” fingers while wrestling the scaled creature kept quartered in the lab. Doug Jones ( Jones is an Indianapolis native, who learned to swim at The Riviera Club. He is a graduate of Bishop Chatard and Ball State University. ) plays the teal-marked reptilian rumored to be a god dragged from a South American river. Eliza is empathetically drawn to him and teaches him the words “egg” and “music”. The boss wants to dissect and mimick his two systemed breathing . The Russians are  interested, too.

Eliza has found a soulmate to save. Their encounters are magical. Russian spy and lab scientist infiltrator, Bob Hostetler , aka Dimitri  ( Michael Stuhlbarg ) agrees to help Eliza. The calendar reads Oct. 10th, “Life is but the shipwreck of our plans”. Suspense and fantasy merge and pure campiness holds it all in shimmering amber light. Enjoy stabs at car ownership, Cadillacs , in particular, the art of positive thinking, and Carmen Maranda’s “chicka boom-boom” . This film has it all.



Sally Hawkins and Ethan Hawke give humbling performances portraying a real life couple, who find happiness in each other. Finding happiness and how we frame it is the subject matter of this story based on the primitive artist Maud Lewis. Lewis ( 1903-1970 ) is Canada’s most famous folk artist. Physically, she suffered from polio and childhood rheumatoid arthritis. Emotionally, she suffered from a family who made decisions expediently that excluded, yet greatly affected, her.

The pace is slow. The cinematography lovely. Nova Scotia with its isolation and stark natural beauty surround the shack where Everett Lewis ( Hawke ) salvages materials and peddles fish. Cinematographer Guy Godfree frames everything like a canvas. Windows and doors, screened and otherwise, filter soft light as a way of being free to see the world as we choose. Filmed in Ireland and in Newfoundland, Godfree and Director Aisling Walsh give us juxtaposition between the small world of  Maud and Everett and the natural world at large.

The late 1930’s is our time frame, and “Maudie” ‘s writer Sherry White  has the late teenaged Maud seeking some independence from her Aunt Ida’s restrictions. Maud parlays her way into a housemaiden’s job with even more rules. How her spirit wins over the gruff, mono-syllabic Everett  is much of our tale.

Sally Hawkins’ wry smile and swinging legs, her constricted hands, and her unconstricted heart, get us ready for her seven-mile-walk on hobbled limbs and her easy “would not mind a cup of tea” as she introduces herself to the knuckle-cracking Everett. Hawkins is brilliant in capturing the emotionally delightful Maud. One of my favorite scenes is where she delights in the irony of being called his “love slave”.

Hawke is equally as fine in his brutal remarks and quick to anger ways: “You walk funny”, “I am the boss; don’t forget it”, and “Who told you you could talk to the dogs like that!”  “It is me, the dogs, the chickens, and then you.” He kicks the door when he can’t recall the words he needs on his help-wanted ad. He wishes his housekeeper to bring her own cleaning supplies. His tender side is shown, too, as he volunteers at the orphanage where he grew up and as he comes to show his love for Maud.

His coarse insecurity is understood until he slugs Maud across the face. Maud leaves him and stays with her vacationing, New-York-City friend, who admires her work and buys Everett’s fish. Smaller moments lead to bigger lessons. Everett wants her back, and Aunt Ida no longer believes Maud has “stained the family name”. In fact, Ida proclaims that Maud is the only one in the Dowley family who ended up happy.

Stay through the credits to see many of Maud’s pictures which capture her innocence in the unmixed color and true lines of her work. But best of all, learn to capture her joy.