REVIEW: ‘The Shape of Water’

by Molly Schiltz, FILM CRITIC

1 March 2018



In Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, Eliza (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with a captive sea creature (Doug Jones).  Photo courtesy of TSG Entertainment.


The Shape of Water, winner of two Golden Globes and nominated for 13 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, does not fail in its promise for individuality.  However individuality should only go so far, and The Shape of Water broke through the necessary boundaries society creates.  In other words there is a line, and The Shape of Water crossed that line in its attempts to be successfully artistic.

The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, follows the story of Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute janitor who works in a governmental facility with her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer).  After a strange water-beast (Doug Jones) is brought into the facility from the Amazons, Eliza tries to interact with it and in doing so begins to fall in love.

Set in the 1960’s, there is the added element of tension between the Americans and the Soviets during the Cold War Era.  The Americans want the monster, hoping it will be their own ticket to national pride, calling it their “space dog,” while the Soviets want it for themselves.  But after discovering the complexities of the monster’s breathing habits — therefore discontinuing any use for it to explore space — it is ultimately decided that the monster must be killed, because it is of no more use to the Americans.  Once Eliza learns of the plan to destroy the monster, she decides to save it and free it from behind the backs of both the government facility as well as the Soviets.

Also instrumental to the story is Eliza’s housemate, Giles, played by Richard Jenkins.  His art is of the utmost importance to him, and he paints, inspired by the creativity of his own mind, until his employer restricts him to strict guidelines about what he may and may not paint.  This restriction is a common theme throughout the film, as society hinders characters’ true natures as well as their individual growth and instead harbors resentment, resulting in a sense of misunderstanding.


The film certainly is bold in its frank willingness to bring to light a multitude of issues. Not only is this reflective of the times of the movie, but it also acknowledges many issues plaguing society today — an important tribute in such a well-viewed movie.


The musical score of the movie was lovely and very clear about the impact it made on Eliza’s voicelessness.  The film incorporates many old fashioned black and white musicals into the movie, making the film seem as if it were set in an earlier time, as the musicals are always playing in the background on Giles’ and Eliza’s television set.  Eliza often copies the dance steps the actors and actresses perform on-screen.  She continually finds herself swept up into different melodies that crescendo and soar around her, in a way allowing her a unique voice of her own to communicate with.  

There is a ton of depth to this film.  Racism is subtly rampant throughout the entirety of the movie, and gender inequality is also dealt with. Throughout the film, characters are silenced due to the station of their lives. Characters are met with discrimination for a number of different reasons.  Characters suffer their own unique problems as they retreat inside themselves.

Standing in stark contrast with the rest of the world is Eliza and her sea creature lover, the two of whom these themes don’t apply to, as they ignore society’s rules in their quest for love with one another.

The film certainly is bold in its frank willingness to bring to light a multitude of issues. Not only is this reflective of the times of the movie, but it also acknowledges many issues plaguing society today — an important tribute in such a well-viewed movie.

If the goal of the director was to cause people to leave the theater and remember The Shape of Water, then the movie can be considered a success.  Because I certainly have thought about it and the issues it recognizes, and I imagine the hundreds of moviegoers who left the theater wordlessly with me have also thought about it.  But if the goal of the director was to create an enjoyable movie to be celebrated and revered by the masses as a love story, then the movie should be considered a failure.

Yes, it made me think.  I kept trying to discern the meaning of the old music and musicals depicted throughout the piece, as well as guess at the meaning behind it all.  It truly is a complex movie, I’ll give it that.

But to be blunt about the entirety of the movie itself, it is also just so weird.  To use the word “bizarre” romanticizes it a bit, leaving “weird” as the only correct term to define it within these circumstances.  Obviously, our society enjoys movies that promote love in all its mysterious and wondrous complexities.  (Does Beauty and the Beast sound familiar?).  However, our society does not take kindly to bestiality, which is really what it appears to be once Eliza and the monster have sex.  

I kept thinking the movie was about to wrap up, yet there was a new fork in the road every time it seemed things would wind down.  At first the surprises were intriguing, but after awhile, it just grew boring, so much so that finally I was just waiting for it to be over.

This movie also bothered me in so much as that at the beginning of the movie, Eliza is a bit lost.  She goes about her daily routine with no changes or surprises and seems content, yet she conveys the sense she is yearning for something as she gazes out the bus window and entertains herself and Giles with little dance routines she performs in the dark of her apartment.  

As the movie progresses and she develops her relationship with the monster, she becomes more open and begins to live more freely, expressing herself more, as is obvious through much more frequent smiles.  

Even the film itself indicates a shift in Eliza’s mannerisms, as the color scheme throughout the entire beginning of the movie is gray, blue, and green.  Even as Eliza leaves her apartment for work it is constantly raining gloomily.  But as Eliza puts more and more effort into understanding the sea-creature the colors brighten, temporarily blinding the wide pupils of moviegoers’ eyes with a rare scene shot in the sunlight.  

Eliza’s seemingly sudden enjoyment for life gave me the idea that she only started to find herself once she started to fall in love.  That if not for her relationship with the monster, she would never have truly been content.  It sort of conveyed to me the idea that the only way to grow as a person is if you are doing it for another person.  This is an ideology I found backwards and unappealing: Where’s the self-empowerment in that?  An individual shouldn’t have to need someone else teach them to find themselves, and I wish Eliza hadn’t only started to live life because of her relationship with the beast.

The Shape of Water is certainly unusual and definitely unconventional.  Yet I don’t believe movies need to go quite so far to convey that their message is unique.  Individuality and society-defying ideas can still be celebrated without the need to resort to such tasteless measures.  

The story itself is complicated, what with an improbable romance between a woman and a sea creature.  Which makes me sound as if I am contradicting myself as I acknowledge the depth of the themes the plot dives into.  It was a complicated story just as it is complicated to pinpoint just what exactly did not sit well with me.  The film, with all its messages, appears great.  But perhaps only on the surface.

There is a murkiness to the film that requires quite a bit of effort on the part of the viewer, and viewers will spend the entirety of the movie trying to see through the dark depths of this motion picture for something truly beautiful.

The bold romance intended held no sway over me, and I could not connect with or sympathize with any of the characters.  I really couldn’t have cared less what happened to Eliza and the sea creature.  Viewers will struggle to see why they should care about the outcome of the struggle for love because none of the components of the story will hold their interest.

This film was both complicated and uninteresting, and I would never have any desire to watch the film again.  

The Shape of Water is rated R.



Molly Schiltz is a film critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the HOWL

Leave a Reply