With an impressive 13 Academy Award nominations, Guillermo del Toro’s latest movie, The Shape of Water, looks intriguing. The basic premise concerns a woman falling in love with a captive amphibious creature while working in a military lab. As you can see from the preview, however, this “fairy tale for troubled times” plays more like a classic, old-fashioned romance than a fantastical monster movie.
I first encountered del Toro by watching his sublime fantasy film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). This fabulous-looking movie is a masterpiece of Latin-American magical realism, which gives me high hopes for The Shape of Water.
Further motivating my desire to see this film are the cast members. Sally Hawkins has garnered stellar reviews for her performance as the main protagonist, the lonely, mute Elisa Esposito. Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins, and Michael Shannon ably fill the other main roles, not to mention Doug Jones, who plays the “Amphibian Man” (he also played a creature in Pan’s Labyrinth).
Critics and reviewers often describe movies with unusual plots by referencing other works of art that provide inspiration or some other kind of connection with the movie in question. It’s interesting to consider some of those mentioned in connection with The Shape of Water:
- Beauty and the Beast (1740) – fairy tale written by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve about a monstrous-looking prince and a young woman who fall in love.
- The Little Mermaid (1837) – fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen about a young mermaid who gives up her life as a mermaid in the sea in order to gain a human soul.
- Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – black-and-white 3D monster horror film about scientists trying to capture a prehistoric beast from the Amazonian jungle to bring it back to civilization for study.
- E.T. the Extra Terrestrial (1982) – science fiction fantasy film directed by Steven Spielberg about a lonely boy who befriends an extraterrestrial who is stranded on Earth.
- Free Willy (1993) – family drama film directed by Simon Wincer about a foster boy who befriends a captive orca.
Mash all these influences together and you might get something resembling The Shape of Water. But I imagine that del Toro’s talents have given us something altogether different and wholly unique.
Iain Pardoe is an online university instructor who enjoys the movies of Hayao Miyazaki even more than the kids and loves rewatching favourites from his youth with his family when he’s not playing soccer or skiing.