When I went out to see this movie, the independent cinema that was showing it had dedicated space on their packed marquee to bill it as “GUILLERMO DEL TORO’S THE SHAPE OF WATER.” Guillermo del Toro’s. No the other movie had its creator highlighted. People had lined up outside half an hour early to see Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, the latest movie Guillermo del Toro wanted to make for us.
Historically, I have not given one hoot about what most mainstream critics might think about Guillermo del Toro movies. I care about what the people who love Guillermo del Toro’s movies think. The outsiders, the weirdos, the women, the people of color, the Others. Guillermo del Toro’s people. The people like himself, who love genre, who have found themselves in fantasy when no other story seemed to represent them. The community for whom he made The Shape of Water, a movie where the heroes are a mute woman, a black woman, an older gay man, a [redacted for spoilers but they are also Other], and a fish-man. Here it is, the outsider movie of the year, from our Guillermo.
And god, it’s beautiful. It’s green, everything, everything is green, a deep grotto emerald. It’s 1961, and it’s underwater, and I am living. The Shape of Water is a floating midcentury jewelry box, a fairytale for the people who always fall in love with the monster. This is the movie for anyone who has looked at what is being called monstrous and seen the extraordinary, seen something startling and misunderstood and lonely, something beautiful. Something attractive. Attractive. I love a work where the very fact of the characters’ eroticism is a daring act. It’s like Robert Rauschenberg putting his bed on an art gallery wall.
Alexandre Desplat’s score is gliding and bell-like and wonderful. The production design we have swooned over already, but just to re-emphasize: swoon. Octavia Spencer is as warm a presence as ever. Sally Hawkins is luminous as light on water. Richard Jenkins sounds exactly like a 1960s radio narrator, and if the man ever wants a change of pace he should absolutely record me some audio books. The three of them are just lovely with each other. At one point I almost thought it may be too cute, but no, no why would we ever set a quota on sweetness and charm. In this world? In our own or here, where Michael Shannon’s character is ever too ready to be gruesome and cruel.
The politics of Guillermo del Toro’s movie, and of Guillermo del Toro, are boldly drawn. On empathy and humanity and not being an abusive dick, and also I feel like—forgive—an undercurrent of environmentalism. In how the amphibious man was taken from the water, and the mission is to return him to it. Also all the green. All that deep, beautiful green.
The water has never looked so inviting.