When I was eight my Dad let me stay up late one night to watch a movie with him. Playing on Fright Night Theater, out of Buffalo on the old WKBW network was King Kong (1933) which he loved and wanted to share with me. Sitting in the dark, the old black and white TV lighting the room with its image, wrapped in a blanket next to me father smelling of Old Spice, we together watched this classic. It was while watching that film I became aware of the magic of the movies.
While watching The Shape of Water, I flashed back to that night, thinking to myself, this is the reason movies were invented, to transport, to leave us in awe, to fill our hearts and souls with wonder. I first saw this film three months ago at TIFF and have yet to see a better film this year. Bold, often audaciously so, it is a monster movie that is a fantasy that is a Cold War thriller that is a love story, and incredibly it all works. In its own quiet and yet majestic way, it is a miracle of a film that left me floating out of the screening cinema as if buoyed by its sheer genius.
This the magic of movies we often here about but so rarely see. While watching the film you keep reminding yourself it should not work, yet it does, and it works with a beauty I have rarely seen on film before. And despite being essentially a monster movie, beauty is the right word for the film. More so than any recent film The Shape of Water explores the sheer beauty of humanity, the best of human beings when we choose to be such.
What is remarkable is that in exploring the very best of humanity, one of the characters is not human, yet is decidedly human. You might find yourself swooning from time to time throughout the picture, floating out of the cinema as though buoyed by water.
The success of the film is placed squarely on the shoulders of the astonishing Sally Hawkins, superb as Eliza, a mute janitor at a top secret government facility where an equally top secret asset has been brought for the scientists to study. Some sort of man like amphibian is chained into a tank, where it is relentlessly tortured by the government bad guy, portrayed with evil relish by Michael Shannon. Worshipped as a God in the Amazon, the creature is tortured and treated as a thing, not a fascinating living being. Eliza bonds with the creature, feeding it hard boiled eggs, playing it the music she loves, finding in this creature an understanding of her very soul she has not experienced with another human being. When she hears the scientists plan to kill and dissect it, she hatches a plan to break it out of the facility.
Aided by her friend, a lonely gay neighbour portrayed with wry sadness by the great Richard Jenkins, and her best friend, beautifully played by Oscar winner Octavia Spencer. Even one of the gentle scientists repulsed by destroying a creature thought to be a God lends his support.