Guillermo Del Toro is a filmmaker with grand vision. His films are loaded with monsters and creatures all created from scratch and no previously published content. "Pan's Labyrinth" , "Hellboy", "Pacific Rim", "Blade 2" are all glaring examples of his work.
Monsters used as an object of desireCan creepiness be a pleasant experience. Can monsters make us look inwards? How can they and their worlds resonate with humans? Guillermo Del Toro has an alternated view of monsters. He likes to treat them in his films as "outsiders" for the human race and hence devoid of flaws which are essentially human. So this gives Del Toro an entirely blank canvas to paint his own characters.
The World of "The Shape Of Water"
The 1960's when it was the height of the Cold War, Americans were looking for greatness. Del Toro in a recent interview talks of this world as a reminder to Trump's new found slogan "Make America Great Again". He uses government apparatuses like OCCAM Aerospace Centre and the U.S.Army and its men as two enablers of the story. There is a consistent reference to songs of Fred Astaire (I am in Heaven), films of James Cagney which makes TSOW as a fairy tale of sorts and more importantly reminiscent of Hollywood's Golden Age. Del Toro creates a highly fictitious narrative by using real world characters like Dimitri (KGB's mole) which is played brilliantly by Michael Stuhlbarg and Col. Strickland played outstandingly by Michael Shannon as the ruthless and internally conflicted administrator of the facility. Octavia Spencer as the African American janitor who faces racism and prejudice regularly. Richard Jenkins as the retired gay painter who is struggling to fight his loneliness. Elsa the lead character lives in an apartment above a theatre and many references to cinema are put forward in her home. But the centrepiece of this world is The Amphibian Man played by Doug Jones and Elsa played by Sally Hawkins. Both have a weird connection as both can't speak but communicate in only sign language. More importantly both are societal rejects as she is a mute and he is from an "outside world" so to speak. In a scene its shown that two droplets of water converging towards each other outside on a bus window as a metaphor for two similar people coming together. The strangers with their loneliness meet up at a bad time. Like a "Fairy Tale For Troubled Times" as put by Del Toro in a recent interview. The lovemaking scenes are particularly startling as Elsa embraces the Creature as a soulmate and not another life form. This passion of hers is at the centre of her character. I.E. Her limitations doesn't stop her in getting what she wants!
The Politics of the film
In the movie there is a lot of stress on the hierarchy of the US Army. Shannon's character is routinely dismissed by his seniors for being incompetent and lackadaisical. The Russian spy ring is reminiscent of the divided loyalties in the US citizenry itself. Richard Jenkins who confessed his love for a bakery shop manager and the way he is resentfully thrown out. "Don't ever come here again as families come here regularly" is what is told to Jenkins. This clearly is the time when gays were not openly embraced in American society. Elsa's world is within water, she is shown having a bath, masturbating in water, drinking water mostly, boiling eggs in water, and what not...She meets the love of her life in water....To my mind Del Toro uses water as a metaphor for a "flexible,free flowing idea in the rigid times of the Cold War". The Amphibian Creature is chosen to flow in this grandiose idea. Then there is of course, the senseless mention of "her people" by Shannon to Octavia Spencer. Racism is quite visible. The Golden Age of Hollywood is put to use when Elsa dances in front of the Creature to show her love for him. These old films have been used as a reference point to 'hope' as well. The Russian spy Dimitri's candid approval of the affair between Elsa and the Creature is also about liberalism within the Russian hierarchy as well. Michael Shannon's character is somewhere between a Communist and a semi liberal, his adherence to military and its structure ....(elimination of unfamiliar things) is communist but even in his mad rants he too talks of Samson and Delilah. He consistently changes his stances on issues. Like in the last scene he calls The Creature as "You are a God!".
Relevance for Today
The Shape Of Water doesn't shy away in being a fairy tale and yet is made largely for the adult audiences. It uses real world examples and reference points to push its fictitious characters into conflict. It makes the case for an out of the box idea (the love between an alien and a human) to solve the many layered problems of our societies of today. But at the heart of it, it is the journey of mad love and its complications. In many ways The Shape Of Water celebrates the diversity of our world and something which is being missed badly.
Influences on The Shape Of Water
The film is totally influenced as far as the central characters are concerned from the film "Beauty and The Beast". Its almost imprinted all over Elsa and The Creature. The two outcasts in a class endorsing society.
Del Toro's journey
As per Guillermo Del Toro, TSOW was made for lesser than $19 million, a relatively less budget for a story like this. He also mentions in various media interactions that he was inspired by fellow Mexican director Alejandro Innaritu's Birdman which too is a bit similar in budget and scale as TSOW. This movie has given him his first Oscar and the upcoming Pacific Rim sequel will benefit largely from this. I am sure more unorthodox ideas are on the way from Mr Del Toro.