(Release Info London schedule; January 28th, 2018, Everyman, Baker Street, 17:00)
(Release Info U.K. schedule; February 14th, 2018)
"The Shape Of Water"
From Guillermo del Toro, comes "The Shape Of Water" an other-worldly fairy tale, set against the backdrop of 'Cold War' era America circa 1962. In the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa’s life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.
The journey of Elisa from loneliness and powerlessness to a heroine who takes huge risks forms the beating heart of the film, makes all the more extraordinary because the role is almost without words. Rendered mute by a childhood trauma, Elisa communicates in 'American Sign Language', but she's able to express herself effusively when she encounters the strange aquatic creature (Doug Jones) being warehoused in the government where she works as a cleaning lady. Where it’s about unadulterated expression and words are not needed, and you've the freedom to express so much through your eyes, breath and body. Elisa is not someone who has a horrible existence until the creature showed up. She's not leading a glamorous existence by any means but she's content. Part of that authenticity meant digging into why she would risk so much for a creature whose past is inaccessible to her, whose very experience of life is a mystery, and digging into the valor that love unleashes in her. As soon as she senses their connection, not trying to help the creature would be a kind death for her.
It just seizes her by the heart and there’s really nothing else she can do. She just knows she has to save the day. It can overtake you when you’re in that frame of mind. Elisa goes further than she could have envisioned. She becomes somebody she didn't know she was, and sees all that she's capable of. The remaking of Elisa’s world starts when she first spies the creature in his transport chamber, and immediately realizes there is something very much alive within. Few details are known of the creature, only than that he is likely the last of his kind; that local people in the Amazon worshipped him; that he carries a marvelous lung structure allowing him to breathe on land, a potential boon for 'The Space Race'; that 'The Soviet Military' wants to possess him too; and that, unsettled by his intelligence and physical oddity, the man who captured him believes the creature to be a grave danger to humanity. But Elisa sees none of that when she sets eyes on the iridescent beauty in chains; to her, he's sheer loneliness and that makes him instantly worthy of her attention.
The creature exists on the border between human, animal and myth. He’s very, very alone because he’s the last of his species. He’s also never been outside his river so he doesn’t understand where he's or why. He’s being tested and biopsied all because the government thinks, we're going to use this thing to our advantage somehow. But there's much more to the creature than the government can see. Even though he’s this freak of nature, he has an angelic kind of quality. He comes into people’s lives and he seems to expose and amplify whatever is going on inside a human being. As he seeps into Elisa’s life, emotions unspool for both of them. Their communication is by necessity beyond words, entirely based on vision and feeling. Both characters are out of their element in the larger world but when they’re together that disappears.
The man who hunted the amphibious creature deep across the Amazon with relentless determination is Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a steel-jawed, righteous, ambitious government agent who views his unusual quarry as nothing more than a ferocious beast to be manhandled into submission, and a ticket to his promotion. Strickland is a guy caught up in the whole mindset of the military-industrial complex, and he's trying to rise up in the hierarchy. The paranoia of 'The Cold War' has become part of him. Strickland is a very sad character. He's a guy who started with full belief in his country and in doing the right thing. Then he realizes how little it takes for people to dislike and abandon him. This part is autobiographical because the movie business is exactly like that. Strickland wants to be strong, invulnerable and devoid of mistakes, with that American gung-ho drive, but he's also broken down by all that. The tough shell he maintains takes a lot of energy and behind it lies anxiety, doubt, stress and fear, which is ultimately revealed throughout the course of the movie.
The stress Strickland feels finds a threatening catharsis in his leering advances towards Elisa, who he otherwise views as his low-status lackey. Strickland is attracted to Elisa because of her vulnerability, and because she can’t talk, but also because she’s the exact opposite of him. In an alternate reality, maybe Strickland wishes he could be more like her than he's like himself. He’s like this pressure cooker that explodes, but Elisa always holds her ground with him and that felt so empowering. For the creature, Strickland is an existential threat. Strickland sees the creature as a freak. He’s sort of the quintessential bully, the guy who sees something he’s ignorant about and wants to push it around. Strickland has seen to the creature’s capture and he’s hoping that will translate into big things. The creature gives him a sense of accomplishment. But he also uses him to vent all his most pent-up, poisonous feelings.
Before Elisa meets the creature, her loneliness is kept at bay by her neighbor and dearest friend in the world, Giles (Richard Jenkins), an equally lonely, down-on-his-luck ad-man and avid movie musical lover. With Giles frustrated by an art career seemingly going nowhere, his great escape lies in 'The Golden Age' of movie musicals, an age that was fading by 1962 but the remnants of which Giles hunts for regularly on his TV, with Elisa in tow. Giles loves the idea of a perfect fantasy world. He doesn’t really paint as an artist anymore and now he’s painting just to try to make ends meet, so musicals are where he lives. That’s why Elisa’s journey becomes a journey of salvation for him as well. Indeed, when Giles encounters the creature, the creative fire that had gone out in him reignites. The creature has an effect on everyone that he comes into contact with. With Giles, there's a sparking of his love of art because of course he wants to paint this remarkable, mysterious being.
The only other person to whom Elisa confides is her co-worker Zelda, a veteran cleaning lady at the lab who has come to not only comprehend Elisa but to gossip, share and unite with her. Zelda is very opinionated and does not have a problem expressing herself. Zelda is kind of the muscle at least in their world of the cleaning crew. There's also a symbiosis that occurs between Zelda and Elisa, with each bringing a strong suit the other needs. Each of the film’s characters, no matter their place in society, is grappling with love in different circumstances. There’s a pure love between Elisa and the creature, but government agent Strickland is also trying to love, though we experience that his love is brutal, and Elisa’s neighbor Giles is looking for a love frowned upon in that time, and Elisa’s best friend Zelda is in love with a man who does not deserve her love. Even 'The General' (Nick Searcy) overseeing the laboratory has a kind of father/son love story with Strickland.
Mixing many genres from lush musicals to suspenseful noir, "The Shape of Water", particularly revisits and reinvigorates the enduring allure of the monster movie playing upon our most primal emotions of fear, abandonment and danger but also curiosity, awe and desire. There's something evocative and deeply, strangely relatable about monsters. They're persecuted by pitchfork-bearing crowds because they're different and forced to skulk alone on the edges of society in remote castles, woods or rivers. All were trapped in a transitional state, part human, part other, which anyone who has felt ostracized can identify with. Perhaps most intriguingly, they're sensual beings, powerless to the unending needs of their bodies and minds. Of all the iconic monsters, the most heartbreaking of all was the piscine amphibious humanoid from "Creature From The Black Lagoon" (1954), directed by Jack Arnold. At once dangerous and forlorn, reviled and yearning, the Creature touched audiences even as it scared them.
For the story’s time period, the film purposely choses an American era in which epic fears held sway; 1962, as anxiety over nuclear war with "The Soviet Union" was peaking, and just before the idealistic, future-focused Camelot of President Kennedy gave way to disillusion, mounting paranoia and social upheaval. This is a time when America stopped, it’s a time of racism, of inequality, of people thinking about the brink of nuclear war. In a few months, Kennedy will be assassinated. The futuristic impulses of 60s America play off the primordial creature, where something past comes again as if out of the future. 1962 is a time when everybody was focused on the future, while the creature is an ancient form of the deep past. People are obsessed with what’s new, with ad jingles, the moon, modern clothes, TV. And in the meantime here's this ancient force, a creature in love, who comes among them.
In a secret government laboratory at the height of "The Cold War", a visually dazzling, emotionally daring feat of the imagination erupts. The film casts an other-worldly spell, merging the pathos and thrills of the classic monster movie tradition with shadowy film noir, then stirring in the heat of a love story like no other to explore the fantasies we all flirt with, the mysteries we can’t control and the monstrosities we must confront. From there the entire film becomes an act of breathless submersion, plunging the audience into a 1960s world full of things we recognize power, anger, intolerance; as well as loneliness, determination and sudden, electrifying connections; and one extraordinary creature we do not. An inexplicable biological asse of the U.S. government, a mute cleaning woman, her loving best friends, Soviet spies and an audacious theft all flow into a singular romance that surges beyond all boundaries. This mystery-shrouded amphibious being has not only been hauled up from the dark, watery depths, but seems to have the fundamental adaptive qualities of water–taking on the psychic contours of every human he encounters, reflecting back both aggression and fathomless love.
The themes of good and evil, innocence and menace, the historical and the eternal, beauty and monstrosity weave in and out of each other, revealing that no darkness can ever fully defeat the light. The film weaves in the dizzying landscape of falling in love, as a lonely woman with a traumatic past discovers a love so overpowering it defies suspicion, fear and biology. A beautiful, elegant story about hope and redemption as an antidote to the cynicism of our times. This story is a fairytale in that you've a humble human being who stumbles into something grander and more transcendental than anything else in her life. The fact that the film’s two leads don’t speak, not conventionally anyway, only heightens the love story by stripping away the miscommunications that often stand between humans. Water takes the shape of whatever is holding it at the time and although water can be so gentle, it's also the most powerful and malleable force in the universe. That's also love, isn't it? It doesn’t matter what shape we put love into, it becomes that, whether it’s man, woman or creature.
The film creates a blend of historically authentic 'Cold War America' with the patina of a timeless legend. Like the fluidity of the camera, the design features curves and serpentines set against a world where hard lines can be drawn in men’s minds. The laboratory, where the creature is housed in a secured, indoor pool, establishes the mood with it's blending of emerging high tech with a timeless hall of horrors. The film is monochromatic, so most of the palette is blues and greens with amber as a counter-balance. Red only comes in as the color of blood and love. The light is very expressionistic and full of shadows and feels very classic. Lighting is especially vital when shooting the creature. He’s not really a terrifying character, but he's fascinating and the camera is fascinated with him. In terms of the cinematography he has to be lit very, very carefully, because of course as an audience member you want to see every part of him, but we also want to keep him a bit mysterious. "The Shape of Water" is a vivid phantasmagoria navigating the moral and physical dangers of a world of corruption, authoritarianism and war. His supernatural action epics are equally as inventive.