12 February

Review: The Shape Of Water. Something So Sincerely Sweet

by Jon Katz
Shape Of Water

We went to see “The Shape Of Water,” Monday night, we were trapped in our house by sheets of ice outside for two days over the weekend, we broke out tonight,  I can’t think of a better way to get out than to go and see Guillermo del Toro’s sparkling and mystical and loving vision of a movie.

The two words that come to mind are fantastic and wonderful, maybe enchanting as well. This movie is all heart, and a very big heart.

The film is set at a secret research facility somewhere in the United States in 1960 (shades of Roswell), at the height of the cold war.  In the film, a lonely, mute janitor named Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins,  falls in love with an amphibious creature – a creature from the Black Lagoon type – who is being held in captivity where he is taunted and tortured by a  real monster, a human working for the all-seeing, ever-evil government.

The only cliche in the movie is a ruthless, heartless five-star General who wants to dissect the creature to study him. I’m not sure I have ever seen a nice or ethical general in any Hollywood movie ever.  There are also Russian spies crawling around, including one who cares about our aquatic leading man.

Zelda’s friend and co-worker – Zelda –  is played by Octavia Spencer.

I ought to say there the cast is perfect in every role, they mesh together.

The set and colors and style and feeling of the movie are just amazing, deeply beautiful. Make no mistake about all the hype, this is a very richly and sincerely cast love story, it will take a jaded soul and cold heart not to shed a few tears over what is a very different but richly imagined romance.

del Toro brilliantly captures the silent Elisa and the lost water creature coming to know, see and love one another. There is an extraordinarily beautiful series of love scenes in the movie that just took my breath away.

The movie is very sincerely sweet, it is frightening at moments in a restrained and sorrowful way, and I was grateful to be invited into this magical film, as beautiful as it was unnerving. It is a very different kind of monster movie than we normally get to see.

del Toro must be a man of great heart and soul to make  so empathetic and feeling a love story as this. It is so easy to fumble monster movies, think back on all the casualties and disasters. No one has ever made a monster movie like this that I know of.

I should mention that there is a good deal of violence in the movie, that is very much part of the narrative here. The violence has a distinctly comic book kind of feel to it, but it is still real and explicit.

I would hesitate taking anybody in the family who is especially sensitive or who recoils at scenes of torture, pain and cruelty. I winced a bit at the violence, not because it was poorly done – it was  beautifully and skillfully done – I just don’t love violent scenes that are so explicit and prolonged.

As sweet as the movie is, it has an intensity that doesn’t let up much. It was over in a blink, way too soon for me.

Maria didn’t blink at the violence – she thought movie was absolutely wonderful in every way – she said the violence had a comic book, fantasy feel, and I think this is true. The movie was extravagantly and very purely romantic. It’s a story of the purest kind of love. She loved everything about it.

In a culture that is so suspicious and sometimes hateful to people who are different,  Hawkin’s Zelda doesn’t even seem to notice that the being she loves is seen as a  monster, and to most people, is a monster:  something to be captured, killed and studied, like an exotic frog or butterfly.  Their connection is a soul connection, as touching as it is nature.

If there is any intended message in the movie, it might be just  that – we might want to see the humanity in the others, in the beings that are different from us, that don’t look or speak like us, and that come from strange  and foreign places. Maybe it’s just that this is on my mind these days, but  It isn’t much of leap to get that from the film.

It is not a political movie in any sense, yet I couldn’t help noticing the portrayal of government as indifferent to culture, raping the environment, incapable of empathy or compassion.  Shades of Roswell, and Creature Of The Black Lagoon.

It is interesting that we live in a time when it almost blasphemy to portray the government and its leaders as anything but vicious, dishonest and greedy.

I think anyone who loves movies would love seeing this one. It could be a very  long time before I see another like it.

This movie touched parts of me that no other movie I can think of touched.

Love lives, and even triumphs sometimes. It has more power than many people give it credit for.

P.S. The Shape Of Water has been nominated for 13 Academy Awards, if that matters.


  1. Wasn’t it just wonderful? I loved your descriptions of the movie Jon. I so agree. I am so glad I got to see it. I totally understand why it received so many nominations now.

  2. So glad you and Maria got out to see this, Jon. I really enjoyed it as well. I’d also recommend del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, if you haven’t seen that.

  3. Jon, I am in total agreement with you and Maria, this film is so special, a beautiful romantic experience.
    I also hope you will get the opportunity to see Loving Vincent, another must see film. Unique animation, it is superb.

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