Water, like love, has no single form – it takes the form of a vessel into which it is poured. Hence the variety of romantic stories, their singularity and uniqueness. The fairy tale “The Shape of Water” about the American Ichthyander comes from the same 60s, when the Soviet film about the amphibian man was filmed, captivated the cinema academics and the audience not with the plot (water), but with the beauty of the form (vessel) – an impeccable picture, a slender soundtrack, unity and grace of style. And as for the ridiculous spy story – what kind of film about the 60s is without Russian spies? The law of the genre! You can’t argue with him.
Dumb like a fish
The main character, Eliza Esposito, was found by a child near the river with incomprehensible scars on her neck. She has been mute since childhood and works as a cleaner. The girl’s life seems simple and boring, but her place of work is not at all simple and boring – a secret military laboratory.
The water element is all the time next to Eliza – in the bathroom, in drops on misted glass, in the rain, even in a bucket with a mop. Symbolically, this means not only Eliza’s connection with water, but also her loneliness in the world of “overland”. Only the outcasts of society of the 60s become her friends: an elderly gay neighbor and a black colleague Zelda, who takes care of the girl in every possible way.
Mute like a fish washed ashore, alien to everyone, Eliza lives in her little world, unaware that in fact she is an enchanted mermaid waiting for her prince. The heroine’s muteness does not prevent us from understanding her: the girl’s rich facial expressions make emotions understandable without any translation from sign language.
Ichthyander from Belyaev’s novel was called “the sea devil”, and the creature, which one day is brought to a secret laboratory, where Eliza fights for the cleanliness of the floors, the inhabitants of the jungle of South America worshiped as a god. God-Ichthyander knows how to heal wounds by touching, loves to listen to music and easily learns the alphabet of the deaf and dumb. But this is not important for scientists during the Cold War: they want to understand the breathing mechanism of a creature in order to use it in the space arms race.
Only Eliza sees a miracle in front of her, not a monster. As a true child of the water element, she recognizes in him her god and beloved. His suffering in the hands of the scientists-executioners turns the cleaning lady into a real heroine: the girl develops such a cunning abduction plan that the owners of the laboratory are sure that a group of Russian spies acted against them.
Eliza and the nameless monster are similar: they are alone, surrounded by hostile people, cannot be explained in words. It is difficult to see the new Ichthyander through Eliza’s eyes; he not only does not speak, but often behaves like an animal.
Monsters and people
Del Toro once again demonstrates to the audience his love for monsters, exposing people to be the carriers of real evil. The amphibian man gradually “learns”, becoming more human, while his tormentor Colonel Strickland loses his human appearance.
A successful white man is a fairly common stereotype, without which a movie in the spirit of the early 60s is unthinkable. A Cadillac with a long hood, a gun, a house on the outskirts, a blonde wife in an apron (hello to the “ Stepford Wives ”) and pronounced sadistic tendencies – an icon of typically American conservatism.
Colonel Strickland is a stylish villain, the perfect embodiment of hatred and darkness. The confrontation between the monster and the “real colonel” raises the question of who a person really is and what is true humanity. A real monster can have the perfect appearance; the beast living inside us can turn out to be much more terrible than a half-fish, half-lizard with a tail and gills.
The social meaning of the film
For those who disapprove of interracial marriage, Shape of Water is a truly bitter pill. Although the main theme from the first to the last frame remains love and the deep essence of humanity, the film raises questions about the rights of those who were the oppressed part of society in America in the 60s – gays, blacks and people with disabilities.
Each of the heroes is lonely and incomprehensible: an elderly gay artist with his love, Zelda with her husband – a lazy and cowardly and Eliza – with her dumbness. Who, if not them, could understand the loneliness of the demoted sea god cut off from his homeland and the usual elements, planted in a laboratory container?
Style and entourage: a look from the future
The world of the 60s is doomed, despite its aggressive and bravura shell. The seeds of decay are already swelling in it, preparing to germinate. In the film, this doom is symbolized by gloomy bunkers with riveted doors, rusty pipes, dull green and gray colors of walls and floors. Gray and blue-green tones seem to immerse us in the natural element for the “monster of the sea”.
With a fairly modest budget for today’s Hollywood (less than 20 million was spent on the film), the director managed to shoot a picture with an expensive, catchy and stylish “picture”. The scenery not only creates an atmosphere, but also subtly and skillfully reinforces the main theme of the picture with many beautiful details, into which a lot of mind and talent are invested.
The meaning of the ending of the film
Return to the native element is inevitable for the “creature”. But Eliza no longer has a place on earth. In the tradition of the best fairy tales, where a kiss wakes up princesses, the underwater kiss of the “monster” awakens a mermaid in Eliza: terrible scars on her neck cut through, turning into gills, and it becomes clear that these two were meant for each other from the very beginning, and that Eliza as alien to dry land as to her lover. They leave the land with its laws and intolerance to various forms of water and love, swim away into the depths of the sea, where only the laws of nature operate.
“The Shape of Water” is an unusual and very touching love story. This is a story about how anger, suspicion and intolerance make an intelligent, purposeful and decent person a monster, and love and compassion work wonders.
Water in the film is not just an element, but a symbol of change and inevitable losses. Eliza finds love, but she leaves the lives of people who were very dear to them forever. With whom will a neighbor and a friend share their loneliness now? Everything that the girl used to love and appreciate, she left on the ground. That is why the happy end of this tale has a slightly salty aftertaste – either tears, or sea water.