The Shape of Water

Dec 14, 2017

A beautiful fantasy, one of the best films of the year.

The Shape of Water

Grade: A

Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth)

Screenplay: del Toro, Vanessa Taylor (Hope Springs)

Cast: Sally Hawkins (happy-go-lucky ), Michael Shannon (Midnight Special)

Rating: R

Runtime: 2 hr 3 min

by John DeSando

“This may very well be *the* most sensitive asset ever to be housed in this facility.” Fleming (David Hewlitt)

If you consider writer Guillermo del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth (2006), you might call him a visual genius, a poet who transcribes myth into reality.  Now in his written/directed The Shape of Water, when Elisa (Sally Hawkins) falls in love, it's with a fish, actually a large amphibian that can love her back, and the result is sweet.

That is until the government of 1962 figures Amphibian Man a political liability and the lovers become fugitives. Undoubtedly inspired by The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954), The Shape of Water is a beautiful fantasy fable set in the Cold War, where a simple janitress, who is mute and an outsider like her Amphibian, struggles with him to be accepted for the  love she chooses.

I'm misleading you; the exciting struggle is mostly against the narrow-minded forces of convention and authority, which see the fish as a threat to national security, but just as much inscrutable and dangerous.

In that xenophobia lies the similarity to today's political climate which threatens our history of tolerance because of ignorance. Just as odd-looking foreigners threaten our way of life, so too does Amphibian Man, whose value as a specimen to be studied is compromised by  foreign  agents who do  not wish us to benefit from research.

Strickland (Michael Shannon) is the weak authorities' security guy, who doggedly pursues Amphibian out of duty as much as than ideology. His glee using an early version of a stun gun on the fish is a reminder of the rabid torture sanctioned by modern “safety” obsession.

Although I have made this film out to be a sci-fi political thriller, it is  more a love story along the lines of Beauty and the Beast, but far more modern and human, possibly closer to Frankenstein, whose monster in the Mary Shelly novel is almost lovable in his ignorance and yearnings.

When Strickland seeks out to destroy the Amphibian and his love, he states the mantra of ill-considered radicals everywhere, even in politics: “I deliver.” He could be Potus fulfilling a campaign promise or just plain evil. In either case, Beauty is always vulnerable and Beast, well, not meant for this “civilized” world.

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at