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The Shape of Water is the Ultimate Genre Mashup

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I thought I knew what I expected going to see Guillermo del Toro’s Shape of Water but my expectations were completely shattered — in a good way. Instead of adhering to the contours of science fiction/fantasy genre, Toro seems to toss a number of genres in to the bathtub and mix them with salt. The science fiction and fantasy elements were definitely there– a mythical creature (based on the “Creature of the Black Lagoon” from the fifties) with healing abilities takes the center stage. But Toro’s vivid color scheme of blues and greens, and sometimes reds, creates what feels like an old-fairytale aesthetic. Then he tosses in a love story with plenty of “cultural moment” social commentary — and, most strikingly, a “suburban strange” theme most well recognized in American Beauty. This mashup of genres should make the movie feel strange and disconnected, but Toro’s art has the opposite effect. It is actually strangely soothing to experience this wild mix, a warm bath with candles and music.

Sally Hawkins stuns in the role of Eliza, a mute janitor at a government lab in the 1960s, despite not speaking a word for the entire film (though there is a musical number that should feel out of place, but again does not). The film is centered around her relationship with the strange creature (Doug Jones) that dwells within the lab that she cleans and is deemed the American government’s most valuable “asset.” Octavia Spencer and Richard Jenkins also shine as Eliza’s two closest friends and allies– Spencer plays Zelda, a fellow worker at the government lab and Jenkins is Giles, Eliza’s aging gay roommate, an out of work ad man (there is also a *Mad Men* feel).

The similarities between these three characters (Elisa, Zelda, and Giles) is where the film offers its most distinctive social commentary. It is the story of the disenfranchised: the mute, the African American woman and the gay man. And they have, as mentioned, this monster with God like features that becomes part of their group. They stand up and stand together against the super creepy angry white American male, Strickland (Michael Shannon), a government agent (FBI?) who is overseeing the lab in a cruel fashion, torturing the asset while living a seemingly Leave it Beaver life in the suburbs.

The movie does have its flaws. The pacing is slow. And, despite the message on “disenfranchised” Americans, black males come off pretty bad in the few moments allowed. Surprisingly, Russians do better. In an overly complicated sub-plot, a Soviet spy actually helps Eliza, et. al. As for the romance brewing between the strange monster and Eliza, some more conservative movie goers may have to suspend too much disbelief. There is not one, but two scenes of interspecies love-making, almost as if Toro is trying to convince himself this is beautiful.

This being said, Toro still gracefully brings the audience into his fantasy; his creativity is off the charts. Within the fantasy there is a very heartfelt story or pain, love, and loss. It is must-see movie, but — like warm baths with candles and music —  not something I would want to indulge in night after night.

1 Comment

One Response to “The Shape of Water is the Ultimate Genre Mashup”

  1. Georgia Zimmerman on February 16th, 2018 7:58 am

    I really liked that you related certain parts of the movie to other movies, and used that as a way to describe what you were trying to explain. You covered the entire movie in a brief and thorough manner. Really well written, great job.

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