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REVIEW: Guillermo del Toro’s ‘The Shape of Water’ is a Fairytale

Director Guillermo del Toro has recently produced yet another one of his famous fantasy flicks that continuously draw audience attraction. Best known for his movie Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), del Toro now tells the story of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman working as a cleaning lady in a government laboratory in 1960s Baltimore. When she discovers the mysterious South American fish-like creature that the lab has taken in, they form an unexpected bond through their similar alienations.

Picture Credit: The Washington Post

But when Elisa overhears orders from Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) that the creature will be killed, she begins to make plans with the help of her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Russian spy Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), to rescue the amphibian and free him back into the ocean.

Creating a fantasy story for film often proves to be difficult for directors and screenwriters, as it can be hard to make audiences care and fully understand these characters. Del Toro further takes on this challenge by making not only the creature difficult in understanding Elisa as well. As she is mute with not much clarification on her past, del Toro helps explain Elisa through her daily motions and relationships with other characters. It is after the audience begins to scratch the surface of who Elisa is that the creature is introduced, who as an unfamiliar being, can only be interpreted through his connection with her.

Yet it is not only del Toro’s ability in creating complex and comprehensible characters in this fantasy film that makes it great, but also that the relationship between Elisa and the creature does not seem absurd in any form. Instead, their connection takes on similarities to those of Beauty and the Beast, feeling both natural and true. From Giles narration at the beginning to it’s typical format, the film is perhaps best described as an adult fairytale, full of magic and love.

Picture Credit: The New York Times

Del Toro has a clear love for cinema, referencing Hollywood’s movies throughout the entirety of the film while also paying homage to the classic monster figure. Elisa and Giles even spend their time watching Golden Age cinema––from Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel (1935) to the songs in That Night in Rio (1941), these classics are more than just movies on a screen, but rather become another voice in understanding this relationship.

Comprehending this relationship, however, is more than just classic fairytales and cinema telling it to audiences. Instead, the understanding mainly lies in actress Sally Hawkins, who with Elisa’s limitations in speaking, has to sell this relationship to viewers through expression and movement. Elisa is not meant to be fully understood, as she has yet to fully understand herself. Hawkins portrays this beautifully, with her only certainty being her bond with the creature.

Truly everything in The Shape of Water is beautifully connected, from the red and green colors and to water itself. Through each connection that forms their relationship, Elisa is able to fully accept her identity while also coming to terms with the magnitude of love.

Cover Photo Credits: The Atlantic


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Callie is double majoring in English and Cinema and Media Studies at Boston University. Outside of writing for HerCampus, her interests include watching movies, reading, skiing, and beauty. She is a Boston native. 
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