The Shape of Water Review: Guillermo del Toro’s 2017 Movie

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The Shape of Water: A Dark Fairy Tale Masterpiece


Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a dark fairy tale: a beautiful and sensual masterpiece that touches the heart through the power of silence. This 2017 Hollywood film, adorned with 13 Oscar nominations, emerged victorious with four prestigious awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. The Shape of Water captivates viewers with its emotional depth and imaginative storytelling, leaving an indelible mark on those who experience its magic. While drawing inspiration from the beloved European fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” del Toro reveals that his childhood viewing of Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) also played a significant role in shaping his perception for this film. It is within this cinematic blend that The Shape of Water unfolds, weaving a tale of love and separation between a mute woman and a captivating amphibian creature.

The Captivating Storyline

The Shape of Water centers around Eliza, a mute woman portrayed flawlessly by Sally Hawkins, who works as a cleaner at a secretive US government experiment facility set in 1962 Baltimore, Maryland. The film’s backdrop is the civil rights movement and the Cold War era, a time when society’s fear of the unknown grew increasingly intense. Eliza, an orphan found by the river, carries only a barely visible scar on her neck as a reminder of her enigmatic past—a scar that likely caused her muteness. While she lives a seemingly solitary life and struggles to communicate with others, she finds solace in her routine and the company of her empathetic neighbor, Giles, splendidly portrayed by Richard Jenkins. Giles, an artist and a gay man, also faces inner turmoil and societal rejection, seeking refuge in classic movies and his friendship with Eliza.

A Dynamic Friendship

Eliza’s closest companion is her colleague Zelda, brilliantly brought to life by Octavia Spencer. Zelda embodies brilliance and resourcefulness, supporting Eliza through thick and thin. Together, Eliza and Zelda navigate their work environment under the command of Colonel Richard Strickland, played impeccably by Michael Shannon. Strickland symbolizes the image of a post-war America: a white, elegant, Cadillac-driving family man who soon reveals his true colors as a sexist and racist antagonist towards his subordinates. Their lives change dramatically when Eliza stumbles upon a top-secret experiment involving a man-fish hybrid, captured in South America by the US government. Intrigued, Eliza finds herself developing a unique bond with the captivating creature, resulting in a peculiar relationship that transcends their differences.

An Unconventional Love Story

The mute Eliza and the enigmatic sea creature learn to communicate through sign language, breaking barriers that no one else had dared to cross. For Eliza, this river monster becomes the first living being who views her as a complete person, devoid of judgment or prejudice. Supported by her loyal friends, she embarks on a mission to liberate the creature from its captivity, facing numerous obstacles along the way. Will their connection withstand the challenges and allow them to find love and happiness despite the odds? The Shape of Water challenges conventional notions of romance and explores the depths of unconventional love, reminding viewers that true connections can arise in the most unexpected and extraordinary circumstances.

The Artistry of Guillermo del Toro

Upon its release in 2017, The Shape of Water was often reduced to a simple narrative of a woman’s love for a fish-like creature—a gross oversimplification. Guillermo del Toro’s masterstroke lies in the stark contrast he creates between Eliza’s warm, loving nature and the rugged, amphibious man. Originally conceived as a black-and-white film, del Toro altered his vision and crafted a visual masterpiece by employing vivid shades of brown and emerald green, reminiscent of the sea. The meticulously designed sets transport viewers to an otherworldly environment, amplifying the film’s unsettling ambiance. Alexandre Desplat’s ethereal and romantic score complements the visual storytelling, evoking a sense of mystery and wonder. The actors, including the exceptional Doug Jones as the mysterious sea creature, deliver truly captivating performances, stirring genuine emotions without uttering a single word.

Monsters and Metaphors

Guillermo del Toro’s films often revolve around monsters, but unlike traditional monsters that represent evil or darkness, his creations become vehicles for empathy, understanding, and introspection. In The Shape of Water, the real monsters are not the fantastical creatures that captivate our imagination, but rather the ordinary individuals hidden beneath pretty facades, concealing their true, malevolent essence. Del Toro invites audiences to question their own potential for monstrous behavior, blurring the line between good and evil. Even amidst the fantastical elements, he incorporates metaphors that resonate with real-world issues, challenging viewers to reflect upon their surroundings and the hidden monsters that may lurk among them. The Shape of Water serves as a poignant reminder that dreams and the seemingly impossible are always within reach.

A Timeless Message

The Shape of Water encourages viewers to immerse themselves in its enchanting narrative, prompting introspection and evoking a range of emotions. Guillermo del Toro’s remarkable storytelling abilities shine through, effortlessly instilling sensitivity and rejecting cynicism in each frame. His films exist not just as artistic endeavors but as conduits for reflection on our own humanity. The Shape of Water beckons us to recognize that true monsters do not possess supernatural traits or dwell in faraway realms, but rather, they walk beside us in our everyday lives, concealed behind their own masks. Del Toro gifts us with a timeless message—that genuine connections and the power of love can transcend all boundaries and conquer the most formidable of obstacles.


The Shape of Water is an exquisite amalgamation of dark fantasy, unconventional romance, and thought-provoking metaphors. Guillermo del Toro’s masterful direction, combined with outstanding performances, a rich visual palette, and a captivating musical score, creates a cinematic experience that lingers in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough to witness it. By exploring into the depths of the human spirit and embracing the extraordinary, The Shape of Water reminds us of the beauty that can emerge from the unlikeliest of places, and the transformative power of love. Now available digitally and on demand, this enchanting film invites viewers to dive into a world where silence speaks volumes and love knows no bounds.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. How many Academy Awards did The Shape of Water win?

The Shape of Water won a total of four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Original Score. Its critical success at the Oscars is a testament to its captivating storytelling and remarkable craftsmanship.

2. Was The Shape of Water inspired by a specific fairy tale?

While The Shape of Water draws inspiration from the European fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” Guillermo del Toro also cites Jack Arnold’s The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) as a significant influence on the film. This blend of inspiration creates a unique and captivating narrative that surpasses traditional fairy tale conventions.

3. How does The Shape of Water challenge societal norms?

The Shape of Water challenges societal norms by portraying unconventional relationships and exploring themes of empathy, acceptance, and love. Through the bond between the mute protagonist Eliza and the sea creature, the film challenges preconceived notions of love and reminds viewers to look beyond appearances and embrace genuine connection.

4. What makes Guillermo del Toro’s monsters unique?

Unlike traditional monsters depicted in cinema, Guillermo del Toro’s monsters often serve as metaphors for humanity’s darker tendencies. They embody empathy and understanding, inviting viewers to question their own capacity for compassion and monstrous behavior. Del Toro’s monsters are beautiful creatures deserving of love and admiration, with their true “monstrosity” residing in human nature.

5. Why is The Shape of Water considered a timeless film?

The Shape of Water transcends temporal boundaries by exploring universal themes of love, connection, and the pursuit of happiness. By challenging conventional storytelling and incorporating fantastical elements, the film offers a timeless message of hope and acceptance. Its ability to resonate with audiences on an emotional level ensures its place among the classics of cinema.