Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a beautiful tale of love conquering all. The plot is relatively simple; a fairytale for troubled times set in a troubled time, a down-trodden voiceless woman falls in love with a creature feared and misunderstood by all. Although the film has a standard narrative, it is full of complex and fully developed characters who all seem to realistic with their own secrets, desires and troubled pasts.
The Shape of Water manages to blend a beautiful mix of genres, from romance, to drama, to musical, to horror and cold war thriller, it is a true homage to the history of cinema. It is a film with is steeped in nostalgia but is also extremely relative to our contemporary society, dealing with subjects and issues which are still very tender and sensitive. The Shape of Water delivers on strong performances, stunning set pieces, moving score, gorgeous cinematography and excellent use of colour. It’s not like any other film of 2017, and stands out because it is so different, daring and unique. Simply put, it is not just a film about a woman falling in love with a fish.
There are many reasons why The Shape of Water deserves the best picture award, and I shall explain to you what these are. Firstly, Sally Hawkins’ performance is so memorable, saying so much with just her facial expressions. She is memorizing to watch, and really becomes the character of Elisa. As discussed in an interview with the Rolling Stone Hawkins detailed how she took ASL lessons stating that she “would have given a year to it if I’d been allowed,” and she learned to dance. Hawkins’ goes on to state how “We’re animals: we pick up sound, we pick up energy from someone,and love is beyond words.”
Certainly her performance shows how someone acts and behaves when they are truly in love, a person becomes a better version of themself. The character of Elisa represents every woman who was denied a voice in the past, but she is fighting back and making her own decisions. Elisa may be a character that lives in the past but she is very much a representation of many women who are still fighting for equality in our society today who are often subjected to misogyny, toxic masculinity and neglect. Hawkins’ Elisa seem relatable and very human, who is charming, honest and just a wonderful person with a big heart. She’s a strong female character, who is not just a love interest which is unbelievably refreshing.
Hawkins’ performance isn’t the only noteworthy performance. Michael Shannon delivers a chilling performance as Richard Strickland who represents everything backwards and wrong with conservative America. Shannon chews up the scenery and is perhaps the best villain of 2017. His interrogation scene with Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer is tense, nerve racking and full of suspense, with all three actors delivering performances that excel. Spencer deserved to win best supporting actress, because she is not just the sassy best friend, she is a fully developed character with her own background and story. Richard Jenkins as Giles is also wonderful and some of the best scenes in the film are the scenes between Hawkins and Jenkins, as they watch old films on television, it’s a beautiful heartwarming friendship which seems real and genuine. And of course, Doug Jones as the “Amphibian Man” is simply wonderful, appearing more human than Shannon’s Strickland.
The Shape of Water also deserved to win because of its director, Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro is well overdue his best director Oscar, and should have won back in 2006 for his other adult fairytale drama Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro has always had a distinct approach to filmmaking, he is a true auteur who is passionate about cinema and this shines through in his work. He is a director who is very open and willing talk to people regarding his films, which helped win over many of the Academy members, as one of the members informed the Vulture “To hear Guillermo talk about his inspiration for that movie and what he wanted to tell and how he wanted to touch people … that resonated with me.” It certainly makes an impact to hear a director who is passionate about his project and not simply there to pick up the paycheck. del Toro has extraordinary vision and always delivers beautiful films which are art, every scene from The Shape of Water is carefully crafted and presented to us with love and pride.
Lastly, The Shape of Water is a film which we all need even if we don’t quite realise it. As Del Toro explains in his interview with Goldderby, the film should be seen as a “healing little fable” and people should be “moved to think, as a very, very strangely political allegory that is very needed right now.” Society is in a state of stunned shock as a result of the 2016 presidential election, we are in the need of fairy tales which offer a happy ending, a brighter future and a world where love triumphs over hate.