'The Shape of Water'
Elisa makes Giles say it out loud. The mute cleaning lady wants one of her only friends - her next-door neighbor - to understand fully, and, so, she signs, and he recites.
"When he looks at me, he does not know - how - I am incomplete," Giles says. "He sees me ... as I am."
Elisa is trying to convince her friend to help her break her love out of a heavily guarded military facility, a task neither of which neither of these meek individuals seems capable. As Giles stammers and stutters the words - her words - out, his face conveys understanding, compassion and, finally, resignation. He will help her. He loves her as only a true friend can. And he will not let a true friend be kept from something so important to her.
This scene, for my money the best in The Shape of Water, packs a surprisingly devastating punch. It does so as much because it at last gives voice to the silent Elisa as because she is pleading for help extricating a Fish Monster Creature from government lockdown and, instead of laughing, you're cheering her along.
Only director Guillermo del Toro could make this movie. Only del Toro could dream it up. Elisa, played by Sally Hawkins, falls for the Fish Monster Creature - a slimy, blue-yellow anthropomorphic amphibian from the Amazon - in secret. Her access comes by way of her profession. She cleans toilets and empties trash cans and occasionally mops blood from the floor of a post-World War II compound somewhere in Baltimore. This is the place where the Fish Monster Creature is held in captivity and is handled with great contempt by Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a cruel, unquestioning chain-of-command type. While she and the Fish Monster Creature bond over hard-boiled eggs, the suits, whom Strickland answers to, are trying to determine what to do with their asset - how, if at all, it might give them some edge over the Russkis.
Elisa and the Fish Monster Creature, with nary a word between either of them, show how inhumane all this asset talk is. The Fish Monster Creature is not some tool to fight Communism. He is, for all we know, one of a kind. He is, without a doubt, a being with its own emotions and its own deep mysteries. Lowly Elisa, perhaps precisely because she can not speak, is able to hear and see and feel this better than anyone else in the military-industrial complex. Listening to Elisa - surrendering to her wry smiles, her eye rolls and expectant glances and dazzling, determined twinkle - yields its own wisdom.
The Shape of Water is a lot of things, and that is usually something I dislike. But del Toro gets it all to hang together. This is a funny film at one moment, a repulsive one at another. It is sexy and thrilling and romantic. It uses a fish-like creature to probe what humanity is, and it uses the relationships of a mute cleaning lady with her next-door neighbor (Richard Jenkins) and her closest work colleague (Octavia Spencer's Zelda) to define and elucidate the power of companionship.
This is a profoundly effective and affecting film because it commits to its conceit, and because it is so meticulous - from its quasi-Gothic-quasi-post-War decor and production design to its throwback score from the wonderful Alexandre Desplat. It is immaculately put together. It has to be to get buy-in on the Fish Monster Creature bit.
The Shape of Water is weird, and utterly wonderful. If you can get over the oddity of an inter-species love affair - a task that is honestly simpler than it sounds - I promise you will find a story with almost limitless heart - one that makes clear why touch and true connection are so vital to a happy, fulfilled life.