The Shape of Water: whatever divides us could be a blurry concept.
Slightly disappointing by two points, and overall an okay film
Opening in screen as an R-rated movie, The Shape of Water seemed to play on an interesting idea — a mute janitor forms a relationship with an aquatic creature. I wasn’t too excited by the plot of the movie after reading the introduction. However, my own casual response to the film as I walked out of the theater was something like a despondent laugh. I wished it had more to give to the audience. I commented on two points as my friend and I walked out of the theater. First, I wanted ‘the creature’ to be more convincing. It could come off as more intelligent, empathetic, and human-like. Second, I wished the characters in the film weren’t so devoid of human character as was the aquatic creature.
Love or a plaything?
It seemed that the love forming between Elisa and the creature purely relies on the carnal feelings. Maybe the background of Elisa as told by her friend Zelda offers a hint of mystery as to why she could make the strange communion seem so natural. She was an orphan, and so was she found abandoned somewhere in the water basin by the river bank. Elisa is alone, and she starts to hold sympathy on the creature at first because she feels that it must be lonely. The rest of the development of feelings between the two seems rather opaque.
Although I was less excited about the plot once reading it from an external source, I wondered how the movie portrayed the relationship. It is easy to see how Elisa’s feeling develops into that of love, but not so clearly from her aquatic counterpart. He occassionally makes use of the sign language acquired from his interactions with Elisa, but he remains a mystery guy, or a thing until the very end of the film.
Characters devoid of humanness
I also very much disliked the characters in the movie regardless of the conditions or backgrounds why some of them may have turned out so. Dimitri or Dr. Robert Hoffstetler loses his authenticity when he relentlessly murders a security guy when his conscience asks him to protect the aquatic creature for his intelligence and emotional capability to connect with humans. Nobody names it. It is an asset. The colonel who’s in charge of executing the project is portrayed as a psychopathic male. He doesn’t seem to have any other interests besides sex and maintaining his status and power. Indeed, Elisa figures that there’s little which distinguishes humans from the creature. She wasn’t too different from it since she couldn’t speak. In love with the creature, Elisa risks everything to save him out of the lab.
Things in Common
However, what’s in common about these characters in the plot is their lack of love, or perhaps their previous lack of love. Elisa finds love or believes that she found it from a creature that is not human. Is love a strong enough force to blur the line between the two species and allow their communion? The movie says yes. Love acts as a force that drives the plot. It saves the creature and makes people who lacked so much of it see the difference between the life with and without it. They helplessly find beauty in the scenes they observe between the creature and Elisa.
There are miracles performed, and the healing power of the creature adds credibility to a theory that he may be more intelligent than humans in another dimension. However, he still shows his weaknesses out of water in another world with humans. Some of the inconsistencies in the movie are ironically twisted. They make us believe that we are not special. They blur the line between humans and other creatures like the aquatic man.
A Challenge: so what makes us human?
Then a challenge or the message from the movie becomes: what makes us human, then? Is love and conscience what make us human? The movie or simply the existence of such a creature as the aquatic man who can think and behave like human with comparable level of intelligene poses an existential threat to humanity perhaps. Though people react differently to it, we are all invited to wonder and marvel at the mysterious world that it’s suggesting to the audience, who are supposedly humans.
I still can’t hide my disappointments in the exaggerated message of love and belittled human characters. However, the message was quite clear. It was rather about the jouney or the steps to finding love rather than the love itself. How it works as a changing force in almost every individual character’s life in the movie sends a message of love and its power.
If I have to rate the movie though, I would give it something like 6.5. I am not a critic, but I am disapointed and liked Pan’s Labyrinth more from the same director Guillermo del Toro. I really did wish that I could see more humanness in the characters despite the brutality of realistic actions they take in the plot.
Here’s a preview of the movie for those who have not watched!