The Shape of Water
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Writer: Guillermo del Toro, Vanessa Taylor
Cast: Sally Hawkins, Doug Jones, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Stuhlbarg, David Hewlett
Seen on: 15.2.2018
Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaning lady in a big research facility. That facility has recently become the home, or rather prison, of a mysterious sea creature (Doug Jones) that the scientists want to study and exploit. Elisa discovers the creature by chance, but she quickly becomes friends with him, teaching him sign language. But the facility, and above all Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) have plans for the creature – and they are not necessarily humane.
I liked The Shape of Water in many things, but I found its treatment of disability absolutely problematic – and that soured things considerably for me. I still ended up finding it mostly sweet, but it should have been better about that.
Elisa is mute, so she uses sign language for her communication. Hawkins herself is neither mute nor does she acutally speak sign language as far as I know – making it the second film in a year where she crips up and that just sucks. Add to that that Elisa does speak after all in a scene – the most emotional scene of the film – and that makes things even worse: as if sign language couldn’t show enough emotion (which is simply not true) and additionally making it seem like her disability is her personal choice (which is just weird).
The film also draws parallels between disability and homosexuality – both factors that make people very lonely which is a very negative take, even though the film does give us the “community of misfits” at least; and between disability and “monstrousness”. And yes, it’s a very positive view of monsters, monsters are just human, actually, they are better than most humans – the real monster is the white straight guy – and yadda yadda, but it’s still a parallel that really didn’t sit well with me: disabled people are being dehumanized as it is anyway without misguided parallels.
If we leave these things aside (as much as it’s possible – they are pretty central), there is still a lot of good stuff in the film. Michael Shannon is fantastic, as usual and a very worthy villain. The cast was generally very strong.
And above all, it’s a very sweet love story and an utterly romantic film. That romance might be covered up a little because of the creature in the film, but really, if you look, you’ll see that it’s in every corner and scene of the film. It’s beautiful, sometimes a little harsh and always entertaining. But I’m definitely less enthusiastic about it than most other people I spoke with about it.
Summarizing: not unproblematic but sweet.