H2O: Hail 2 Otherness

Frank Farley, PhD
Temple University


Ayse N. Olgun, Bachelor of Theology, Currently Psychology Student
Bahcesehir University, Istanbul, Turkey

Review of The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro

The Shape of Water is an occasionally beautiful but totally absurd love story that pulls out all the stops fantasizing about unexpected connections and otherness sometimes eliciting love, you know—like inter-species love! It connects a mute woman of plain appearance but inner beauty with an aquatic humanoid with fins and scales (think “Creature of the Black Lagoon”) captured in the Amazon river and brought to the United States presumably for possible study (?) or profit (?). Most theories of assortative mating would surely not apply here! The woman Elisa, beautifully rendered by Sally Hawkins, is a janitorial worker at the facility where the creature is being held. She treats this captive water-bound creature sensitively and lovingly unlike the thoroughly nasty and over-bearing boss of the unit housing the creature, played to an unpleasant extreme by Michael Shannon. He is clearly the monster in this story, torturing the creature with a cattle prod for no apparent reason, killing some people along the way, and being relentlessly nasty to just about everyone.

The idea of keeping this very humanoid finned creature in a large grubby tub of water held by chains, with little or no apparent active on-going scientific study of it, makes no sense and robs the film of authenticity. Such an amazing creature would certainly be given highest investigative priority by all concerned. Related to this is a side-story involving prying Russians, and a kindly scientist Dr. Hoffstetler with a Russian background and a former faculty position at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin…

But, of course, all is fantastical! There is no reality here. It’s a highly contrived story of love between a wonderful human and a possibly near-human wonderful creature raised in a river. The only good parts of this film are (a) the love that develops between the innocent Elisa and the creature, who is apparently a male, and (b) the wonderful handful of Elisa’s supporters in her extreme undertaking to free the creature and help it to return to open waters. Her co-worker in janitorial duties and enabler and wit in this entire escapade is Zelda, beautifully played by Octavia Spencer. She provides almost the only humor in this soaked-in-seriousness adventure. Elisa’s special male human friend is artist Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. His uneasy but greatest contribution is to question her behavior when needed, and be her support when needed.

If such a creature were ever found in contemporary times, the handling of it would certainly be quite different from this depiction. This point is at the heart of our criticism, the invalidity and lack of authenticity of this science-implied story. It’s a very contrived story pulling at our heart-strings for the mute and beautifully-in-love Elisa, and the mute and beautifully-in-love creature. We liked this central theme, and the ending with the two of them escaping into open water with Elisa resurrected from being fatally shot, and Alice Faye singing from the classic American songbook You’ll Never Know How Much I Love You on the soundtrack. But in a contemporary world in great need of authentic media depictions of growing and sustained love between and among REAL people, this film falls very short, and certainly other than Elisa’s performance is not Oscar quality, let alone paying-customer quality.

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