The Shape of Water


Sophia Bare, Reporter

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past year, you’ve probably heard of Gulliermo del Toro’s newest film, The Shape of Water. It was nominated for 13 Oscars, including Best Actress in a Leading Role (Sally Hawkins) and Best Cinematography (Dan Laustsen), and won for four: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score (Alexandre Desplat) and Best Production Design (Paul D. Austerberry, Shane Vieau and Jeffrey A. Melvin). Whether or not this film was to your liking, there is no denying that it has made a big splash within the film community.

The basic premise of the movie is a monster romance: a simple human living their very human lives comes across a creature of a different nature (e.g. supernatural like a werewolf, or out of this world like an alien) and falls deeply in love, disregarding the many limitations and difficulties that come with taking a beastly lover. This concept is widely seen with a human woman and a monster “man.” Rarely is a romance between a man and a monstrous lady portrayed — at least not in the same way that a romance between a woman and a monstrous man is portrayed. In the case where the woman is considered to be a monster, she retains mostly human characteristics with only slight alterations to her physique while monster men are portrayed more beastlike as can be seen by the likes of the Beast in Beauty and the Beast and the Amphibian Man in The Shape of Water. And don’t even start on the lack of homosexual (or anything other than heterosexual) romance represented not only within this genre, but within the film community in general.

Putting aside the gendered (and heteronormative) bias that is exemplified within a trope like this (as with many other tropes), the film itself is excellent. In my opinion, every aspect of the film was spot on: the acting, the cinematography, the screenplay, the historical context within the plot, etc. etc. However, the two shining elements would have to be the music and the cinematography.

Scored by Alexandre Desplat — a welcome and friendly face known for the likes of The Grand Budapest Hotel, another visually and auditorily pleasing film — the music really brings an ambience to the film that would not be the same without it. Accompanied with tracks like the crooning jazz of “You’ll Never Know”, covered by Renee Flemming, and the upbeat jazz-pop of “Chica Chica Boom Chic”, famously sung by Carmen Miranda, and “Babalu”, the soundtrack of this film alone will leave you with a whole nest of emotions by the end of it. It piques your interest, getting you in the mood for exploration and whimsical fantasy with its beginning title track “The Shape of Water”, stringing you along for the rollercoaster of emotions as it goes through ups (“Underwater Kiss”, “Overflow of Love”) and downs (“That Isn’t Good”, “He’s Coming For You”), tense (“The Escape”) and relaxed (“Eliza’s Theme”) — leaving you, at the end of it all, utterly exhausted, but with a slight smile on your face as you listen to the alternative version of “You’ll Never Know”, the last track in the extensive soundtrack.

Though obviously aided heavily by production design (the set and everything in it are beautifully designed and well chosen to maximize the atmosphere of any given situation), the cinematography of The Shape of Water simply takes your breath away. Perhaps the most impressive scenes are the ones taking place underwater. Laustsen plays with light so beautifully, shaping and shifting it to boost the effect of the Amphibian Man’s scales glinting in the water — or filming in a way to highlight the pale gleam of Eliza’s cheek or the soft way her hair flows submerged. The scene at the very beginning of the film (a sweeping one-take shot into Eliza’s apartment, all underwater) and the scene at the very end (Eliza and the Amphibian Man holding each other in sweet embrace as they float undersea) were my personal favourites, along with the black-and-white dance sequence scene, reminiscent of old Hollywood films, accompanied with the ever-favourite “You’ll Never Know” and a full band.

The cinematography and score work together to provide an absolutely breathtaking piece. Certainly, even if you are not on board with the whole “woman who makes love to a fish monster” thing, or even the surprisingly gruesome and torturous nature of humanity explored in the film, there is no denying that the film is aesthetically alluring. And if you are interested in a roller coaster of unusual romance (and if you do not shy from violence-it gets quite grotesque!), watch it. You may be grossed and weirded out but I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Photo provided by the reporter