Set against the backdrop of Cold War, the film revolves around a lonely mute woman, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who works as a janitor in a classified laboratory in Baltimore. Her isolated, mundane life takes a dramatic turn when she falls in love with a mysterious sea creature, dragged from South America to the lab by Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), who terms it as an ‘asset’.
Love can be found in the strangest places and Elisa stumbles upon it in a lab. Ironically, while the creature is trapped and tortured by Strickland for being dangerous, it is that very monster that’s most compassionate when it comes to Elisa. He sees her and acknowledges her existence unlike the rest. The creature makes her feel alive and worthy of being loved — something we all yearn for.
Leading the Oscar race with 13 nominations, on paper, Guillermo del Toro’s implausible love story may seem a tad preposterous. However, its beauty lies in the filmmaker’s vivid imagination and unique execution. Through sublime storytelling, evocative characters, spectacular production design and Alexandre Desplat’s soul-stirring music, del Toro’s suspenseful romance, transports you to another place and time. In times of growing cynicism and practicalities seeping into relationships, this enchanting fairy-tale with a hint of realism, is an exquisite piece of cinema that compels you to believe in miracles.
Right from the word go; the visionary filmmaker paints a visual and emotional masterpiece that strikes an incredible balance between reality and fantasy. Elisa’s banal existence and longing for an unusual adventure, her modest apartment placed on top of a movie theatre and unspoken conversation with her only friends Giles (Richard Jenkins), an elderly gay man craving for companionship and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), a caring woman, constantly cribbing about her useless husband Bruester… it is precious moments like these that resonate with you the most. Also, the actors — Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, Michael Shannon and Michael Stuhlbarg breathe life into this fantasy.
More than its visual brilliance, what captivates you the most is Del Toro’s ability to capture the minutiae of his ordinary characters’ everyday life. An unlikely amalgamation of supernatural, spiritual and sci-fi elements, The Shape of Water at heart, is a simple tale of hope and empathy. It rebuilds your faith in love, which isn’t and shouldn’t be defined by a certain shape or form.