Watching The Shape of Water (2017 FOX Searchlight, directed by Guillermo del Toro), I noted with interest the brief sequence when Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) offers a boiled egg to the Amphibian Man (played by Doug Jones). When I saw him take the egg and dive back into the water, I flashed back to a family vacation about five years ago. We were in Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I was body surfing (not very well on my part) with my brothers Rich and Doug, and he used the same diving form that I saw him use in this movie.
Before I get into what I want to say most, let me mention that the directing and acting were superb. Additional cast members Octavia Spencer (as cleaning lady Zelda Fuller), Michael Shannon (as repulsive bad guy Richard Strickland), Richard Jenkins (as neighbor Giles), Michael Stuhlbarg ( as scientist Dr. Robert Hoffstetler), David Hewlett, and others did a superb job in playing their roles and adding their individual facets to this gem of a film.
Lest I give the wrong impression, this film earned its R rating. I estimate that the scenes which made me uncomfortable amounted to about fifteen minutes of screen time, and I would have preferred to have seen that time devoted to a more extensive portrayal of my brother’s character and more transitions in the development of his relationship with the mute cleaning lady.
A number of social issues were covered in this period piece, and if the film had one major weakness, it might be that it tried to do too much. I personally prefer to see fewer themes developed more fully.
Now for the things that really impressed me besides the fine acting. This is a unique effort in that it is a blend of monster movie and art film, which is evident from the opening credits. Just to see it, I had to drive a hundred miles to an art house where it was playing in Kansas City. The musical soundtrack is used so effectively that it seems like an additional character in the story. I like that this is a relatively low budget film that nonetheless has unique and stunning visuals. It’s a beautiful piece of cinematic work.
Overall, I’d say that this is a fairy tale disguised as science fiction. The Amphibian Man is more than a monster. He represents an almost spiritual longing, that ache for something wonderful and unexpected which will overtake us.
I think people long for the unusual and the mysterious, for something beneficial that is ultimately beyond our control. That which we can manipulate is that which we have an unfortunate tendency to disrespect and take for granted.