Having just won the Golden Globe for Best Director, a betting man would say that it’s highly likely that Guillermo del Toro will be awarded the coveted Academy Award for his efforts in his new fantasy thriller, The Shape of Water. And it would certainly be well-deserved. The movie is nominated for an astounding 13 Oscar nominations.
Critically acclaimed and sweeping up at the film festivals, including winning the Golden Lion for best film at the Venice International Film Festival, this latest flick from the famed Mexican director presents audiences with a visually striking and moving film about the unexpected and genuine love that blossoms between a lowly mute janitor Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) and an amphibious creature held captive at a U.S. laboratory (Doug Jones). Set during the Cold War period, the ruthless Colonel Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon) becomes the foil in their budding romance as Elisa soon realises that she needs to break the shackles of her beloved lest he is cruelly tortured and vivisected. With a wonderful supporting cast of Octavia Spencer (playing Elisa’s chatty colleague) and Richard Jenkins (her helpful neighbour Giles), del Toro is able to inject such heart and emotion into this magical fable about a special interspecies bond.
The premise of The Shape of Water, with its enamoured girl and creature beau, may strike audiences as being unusual – to say the least. But for anyone familiar with del Toro’s previous films, they would know he is more than partial to the world of fairy tales, monsters and dark fantasy - from the phenomenal Pan’s Labyrinth to the Hellboy series. del Toro’s fascination with monsters and other fantastical beasts goes beyond the cinema as well, with him being a prolific author of horror and fantasy novels and book series.
But why this fascination? According to del Toro, the worlds he creates – filled with creatures that’d scare even the most stoic – are not scary, Well, they may be scary to much of his audience but to him, they serve a higher purpose. del Toro posits that monsters are metaphors that allow us to evaluate not only our fears, but also our own values, morals and, sometimes, desires. And indeed, in the majority of his films, audiences are compelled to look deeper and beyond the scaly exteriors, and to understand the creatures at a more meaningful level – much closer to being an ‘us’ rather than a ‘them’.
However, while del Toro is not scared of monsters, he is not fearless. In fact, to him, the establishment and authority are the things which should be feared. In The Shape of Water, this theme of authoritarianism vs. freedom is stark. However, del Toro has also stated that it’s the idea of ‘love’ which he wanted to espouse most in this film, especially given today’s climate that seems to be increasingly espousing the contrary. Ultimately, this sweet and lovely story about two beings champions the importance of giving a voice to those who don’t have one, being compassionate and inclusive, and having the ability to love – things which are not very scary at all.
The Shape of Water is nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Sally Hawkins, Best Supporting Actor for Richard Jenkins, Best Supporting Actress for Octavia Spencer and more at the 90th Academy Awards on March 4th.