Friday, April 6, 2018

It Came From The Cineplex: The Shape Of Water

I saw this film in the theater way back in January (!), and I'm ashamed and abashed that I'm just now getting around to reviewing it here in April. Sorry about that. I have no excuse other than I've been really busy lately, and am way, way behind on my movie reviews. I'm trying my best to catch up, but it's slow going.

The Shape Of Water was written by Vanessa Taylor and Guillermo del Toro (that means "of the bull!"). It was directed by Guillermo del Toro.

Taylor previously wrote for many TV series, including Gideon's Crossing, Alias, Everwood and Game Of Thrones (!). Her sole previous theatrical work was Divergent (ouch!).

Del Toro previously wrote Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark. He co-wrote The Hobbit; An Unexpected Journey, The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug and The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies. He wrote and directed Chronos, Mimic, The Devil's Backbone, Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. He also directed Blade II.

The film is a Cold War fairy tale for adults, which has to be a brand new sentence in the history of the English language.

Del Toro's films are always guaranteed to look great, but story-wise his work has always been hit or miss with me. I liked Mimic, the Hellboy movies and Pan's Labyrinth quite a bit, and I thought Pacific Rim was just OK. The less said about Crimson Peak the better, as I absolutely hated it.  

His films always seem to be missing some indefinable... something that prevents me from fully enjoying them. Happily, The Shape Of Water doesn't fall into this category. It's a beautifully crafted film, featuring amazing cinematography, brilliant performances and a compelling story. It's easily the best movie I've seen in a very long time.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thinks so, as The Shape Of Water won the 2017 Best Picture Oscar! Huzzah!

The film also has an amazing, award-winning cast. According to de Toro, many of the characters were written with specific actors in mind, specifically Sally Hawkins as Elisa, Michael Shannon and Strickland and Octavia Spencer as Zelda.

Del Toro began working on the movie back way back in 2011. Originally he wanted to film it in black and white. That's sounds like a horrible idea, and I'm glad it didn't come to pass. Don't get me wrong normally I love black & white movies. But color plays a HUGE and symbolic role in The Shape Of Water, and it would have been a very different movie indeed in black & white.

Del Toro claims he made the film because he wanted to see the monster get the girl for a change. When he was a kid he watched The Creature From The Black Lagoon on TV , and was sure the Gill Man would end up with Julia Adams. Instead he was horrified when the Creature was seemingly killed at the end. He vowed to one day right this grievous wrong, by making a movie in which the Gill Man and the girl wind up together.

Speaking of the Gill Man, he supposedly served as inspiration for the creature in The Shape Of Water. Eh, I dunno about that. He looks way more like Abe Sapien from the Hellboy series than anything in the Creature films.

Del Toro and his crew reportedly worked on the design of the monster (called "The Asset" in the film) for over nine months. Since the main character had to fall in love with the fish man, del Toro wanted to make sure it would look attractive and appealing to the audience. 

To that end, del Toro brought in his wife and daughters as unofficial consultants to help sex up his fishy star. Supposedly they were obsessed with the monster's butt, demanding that it be as supple and shapely as possible. Del Toro and his effects team complied, working for months on the Asset's, um... ass.

As often happens when a film becomes successful, people start crawling out of the woodwork claiming they had the idea first. 

The family of the late playwright Paul Zindel alleges the movie stole its plot from his 1969 TV play Let Me Hear You Whisper. The play's set in a research lab and concerns a cleaning lady who strikes up a friendship with a dolphin that's part of a scientific experiment. She's amazed when the dolphin begins talking to her (and only her). She then has to save the dolphin from dissection by convincing the scientists it's intelligent.

Eh, I dunno. It's somewhat similar, but far from a carbon copy. Del Toro denies ever having seen or heard of the play, as he was just five years old when it aired.

The Shape Of Water has also been accused of lifting its story from the 2015 Dutch short film The Space Between Us. Once again, the story's set in a lab, where a cleaning woman named Juliette befriends a captive merman called Adam, whose gills are the key to saving humanity. She then faces an impossible dilemma if she helps Adam live, then humanity dies.

This one actually sounds pretty similar. However, Del Toro began working on the script for The Shape Of Water well before The Space Between Us was even filmed. And the Netherlands Film Academy examined both movies, and found that while they share several common elements, both "have their own very different identities," and "are not in any conceivable way interlinked or related." 

So there you go. It's all just a big coincidence. Besides, the idea of a woman falling in love with some sort of beast especially a fish man  isn't exactly new, and has popped up in film and literature many times over the years. 

Incredibly, The Shape Of Water cost a minuscule $19.5 million. Heck, most movies these days spend more than that on their craft service! I don't know how del Toro did it, but the movie looks like it cost ten times that at least.

So far the film's managed to gross a somewhat disappointing $63 million here in the States. It's done much better overseas, where it's made $127 million, for a worldwide total of $190 million. That's a pretty amazing profit!

I'm sure the less than spectacular domestic gross has to do with the film's initial limited release. It premiered on December 1, 2017 in just measly TWO theaters! There's no doubt in my mind that it was rushed into those two theaters just so it would be eligible for the 2017 Oscars. I guess the plan worked, since it won!

Thankfully it later expanded onto 2,341 screens. I was beginning to wonder if it would ever make it to my neck of the woods, and it finally came here well into January 2018.


The Plot:
We open on a submerged apartment, filled with floating furniture and objects. A narrator (who we later find out is Giles, played by Richard Jenkins) tells the story of "a princess without voice, the one she loved and the monster that threatened to tear them apart."

In 1962 Baltimore, Elisa Esposito (played by Sally Hawkins) lives in a small apartment above an old movie theater. Elisa's an orphan who was found in a river as an infant (?). She's also mute from an unknown accident that left her with three horizontal scars on each side of her neck (hmmm...). 

Elisa wakes up and prepares to go to work. She boils some eggs for her lunch, shines a pair of shoes from her considerable collection, then takes a bath and masturbates in the tub. Yep, you read that right!

She then pays a visit to her friend Giles, who lives just across the hall. Giles is an older man who works from home as a commercial illustrator, and has way more cats than necessary.

Elisa then rides the bus to the Occam Aerospace Research Center, which is some sort of government lab/think tank. There she works the night shift as a cleaning woman along with her friend Zelda Fuller (played by Octavia Spencer). While the two are sweeping up a lab, a group of technicians wheel in a large metallic container. A severe looking man named Colonel Richard Strickland (played by Michael Shannon) enters along with the container, and lets the scientists know he's in charge of "The Asset."

Curious, Elisa sneaks over to the container and tries to get a peek at what's inside. She's startled when a large webbed hand suddenly slaps against the small window in the container. Strickland becomes furious and shoos Elisa and Zelda out of the lab.

The next day Giles takes Elisa to his favorite diner, Dixie Doug's Pie Shop. Of course the real reason Giles likes the place is because he has a crush on the "Pie Guy" who works there. Elisa dutifully tags along, even though she hates pie.

Giles finishes his illustration of red jello and takes it to his art director. He's told the client now wants green jello, and since these are the dark days before Photoshop, he'll have to start all over. Giles tells the art director he's stopped drinking and begs to come back to the agency. The art director hems and haws and says he'll think about it. Don't worry, this all becomes important later, sort of.

That night Elisa and Zelda are cleaning the men's bathroom, when Col. Strickland walks in. He washes his hands and then pees right in front of them, much to their embarrassment. Oddly enough he doesn't wash his hands afterward, saying that demonstrates a weakness of character (?). He then shows Elisa the large cattle prod that he uses to tame the Asset, which must be the least subtle visual metaphor in the history of film.

A bit later the women are emptying trash cans, when they hear gunshots and screams inside the Asset lab. Suddenly the door opens and Strickland staggers out, his hand a bloody mess. Security rushes Strickland away, as a scientist orders the two women to clean the lab. Inside they're shocked to see the floor's covered with blood. Elisa finds two of Strickland's fingers on the floor (!), puts them in a bag and hands them over to a guard.

The next day, Elisa tells Giles about the Asset, but of course he doesn't believe her. That night she secretly enters the conveniently empty lab and approaches the pool in the center of the room. She takes a hard boiled egg out of her paper bag and begins eating it. This attracts the attention of the Asset in the pool. It swims over to the edge and stands up, revealing it's a large, humanoid gill-man (played by Doug Jones, of course).

For some reason Elisa's not afraid, and offers it an egg. She even demonstrates the sign for "egg" to the Asset. It cautiously snatches the egg away and dives back under the water.

Later on Strickland calls Elisa and Zelda into his office. Elisa notices his fingers have been sewn back on, so she returns his wedding ring to him. He tells them about the Asset, saying he dragged it out of a river in South America, where the natives worshiped it as a god. He says it's an affront and an abomination, as well as extremely dangerous. He says 
they're to clean the lab as quickly as possible and get out.

Elisa of course ignores his orders, and begins visiting the Asset every night for weeks. She even teaches him sigh language and plays records for him. One night she's stealthily observed by Dr. Robert Hoffstetler, one of the facility's scientists. He's fascinated by the fact that the Asset responds to Elisa like a human.

Later Dr. Hoffstetler, who's secretly a Soviet spy named Dimitri, meets with two fellow Russian agents. He tells them about the Asset, saying he believes it's intelligent. The Russians give him a poison to kill it, in order to prevent America from learning anything useful about it.

That night Elisa sneaks into the lab and sees the Asset's been chained down outside his tank, and is struggling to breath. Just then Strickland enters, forcing Elisa to hide. Strickland uses his cattle prod to torture the Asset, paying him back for slicing off his fingers. Unfortunately Elisa can do nothing but cringe in the shadows while this is going on. Before he leaves, Strickland looks down and notices a hard boiled egg that Elisa accidentally dropped. Uh-oh!

Strickland's boss General Hoyt enters to have a look at the Asset. Hoffstetler explains that the Asset has the ability to exist in both water and air (so why's it struggling to breath then?) and studying it could help America win the Space Race. Strickland says the only way to properly study the Asset is to dissect it. This understandably alarms Elisa.

The next day Elisa tells Giles that she wants to rescue the Asset before Strickland kills it. Giles refuses to get involved, saying it's just an animal. Elisa angrily says there's no difference between the Asset and her, and if they do nothing they're no better than Strickland.

Later Giles visits the Pie Shop and reveals his feelings toward the Pie Guy. It doesn't go well, as the man's horrified (it's 1962 after all) and throws him out of the shop. Giles then finds out the ad agency went with a photo instead of an illustration, meaning he's now out of a job. Feeling he has nothing left to lose, he decides to help Elisa rescue the Asset.

Elisa cooks up a plan to sneak the Asset out of the Research Center in a laundry cart, then load it into a van driven by Giles. He uses his illustration skills to whip up some fake I.D.

That night, Elisa enters the lab and frees the Asset. Suddenly Hoffstetler appears and says he wants to help, as he can't bring himself to kill an innocent and intelligent creature. He gives her care and feeding instructions for the Asset, and wishes her good luck.

Elisa loads the Asset into the laundry cart and pushes it down a service corridor. She's confronted by Zelda, who's figured out what she's doing and pleads with her to stop. Just then Hoffstetler cuts the power, and Zelda decides to help Elisa after all. They load the Asset into Giles' fake laundry truck, and drive off. To add insult to injury, Giles accidentally sideswipes Strickland's brand new teal green Cadillac.

Elisa takes the Asset home and puts him in her tub (that she regularly masturbates in). She then does some recon at a nearby canal, hoping that upcoming seasonal rains will flood it and allow the Asset to escape into the ocean. Why she has to wait for the rains instead of just taking him to the ocean and letting him jump in now, I have no idea.

Meanwhile, Strickland is furious that someone made off with the Asset, and interrogates everyone in the facility. He questions Elisa and Zelda, but lets them go, as he believes the Russians were behind the abduction.

Back in Elisa's apartment, Giles keeps an eye on the Asset. Unfortunately he falls asleep, and the curious creature sneaks out of the bathroom. He stares at the TV a while, then sees one of Giles' many cats. He catches one and eats it. Giles wakes up and screams at the Asset, which terrifies it. It runs out of the apartment, accidentally slashing Giles' arm.

Elisa returns home, sees what happened and goes out to look for the Asset. She finds him inside the always empty movie theater below her apartment, staring at the screen. She takes him back upstairs. When the Asset sees what he did to Giles, he grabs his arm and head and begins to glow a bluish color. The next day Giles is shocked to see his arm is completely healed, and his hair's growing back on his balding head!

Elisa sits with the Asset in the bathroom. He reaches out and caresses her arm, which scares her. She runs out of the room, but then stops, apparently changing her mind. She enters the bathroom, disrobes and steps into the tub with him. She pulls the shower curtain around them as they have some sweet, sweet inter-species sex. That night at work, Zelda takes one look at Elisa and realizes what happened. She's both appalled and intrigued.

Hoffstetler's superiors realize he didn't kill the Asset and pay him a visit. They tell him his mission is over and he'll be extracted in two days. 

Meanwhile, things aren't going so well for Strickland. His reattached fingers are turning black and rapidly putrefying. Even worse, General Hoyt visits the Research Center and rips Strickland a new one for losing the Asset. He gives him thirty six hours to find it, or else. Strickland suspects Hoffstetler's the one who abducted the Asset, and begins investigating him. 

Back at her apartment, Elisa stuffs towels under the bathroom door and floods the entire room (!) so she and the Asset can swim around and do it underwater (!!).

The rains begin right on schedule, and the water level in the canal begins to rise, and Elisa realizes it's time to release the Asset back into the wild. Zelda comes over to help, and is shocked to see the Asset looking pale and sickly. She says they need to get him into the canal as soon as possible.

Hoffstetler goes to his rendezvous point and waits for his superiors. Unfortunately instead of extracting him, they open fire as punishment. They shoot him several times, but before they can kill him, Strickland appears and brutally murders them. He then tortures Hoffstetler, demanding to know where the Asset is. He assumes it's with the Soviets, but is surprised when Hoffstetler says there were no spies involved. Strickland then figures out what happened, kills Hoffstetler and stalks off.

Strickland bursts into Zelda's house and demands to know where the Asset is. Zelda plays dumb, which infuriates Strickland so much he tears off his rotting fingers. Zelda's husband Brewster spills his guts and tells him Elisa's harboring the Asset. Strickland leaves, and Zelda calls Elisa to warn her.

Elisa gets the message, and she and Giles load the ailing Asset into the van and drive off. Minutes later, a now completely crazed Strickland kicks down the door of Elisa's apartment. He finds a clue indicating she's taken him to the canal.

Elisa and Giles take the Asset to the edge of the canal. Giles says goodbye to him and walks back to the van. The Asset turns to Elisa and signs "You and me together" to her. Elisa tearfully signs back, "No. Without me." The heartbroken Asset understands, and starts to jump into the canal.

Just then Strickland appears and punches out Giles. He then shoots the Asset and Elisa as well. Both fall to the ground. Elisa looks over and takes the Asset's hand before she dies. Giles comes to and hits Strickland in the face with a two by four. He kneels down next to Elisa and the Asset. 

Suddenly the Asset wakes and heals its wounds. It walks over to Strickland, who mutters, "You really are a god." The Asset slashes Strickland's throat, killing him once and for all. Zelda arrives with the police, and they watch as the Asset takes Elisa's body and jumps into the canal.

Underwater, the Asset swims around the sinking Elisa's body. He then kisses her, transforming the scars on her neck into gills. Or maybe they were gills all along, and he just activated them. They embrace, as Giles' voiceover basically says they lived happily ever after. 


 Since this is basically an adult fairy tale, it makes it hard to poke holes in its logic. Any mistake or plot hole can simply be chalked up to, "Eh, it's just a fable. It ain't supposed to make perfect sense." I'll do my best though.

 The second the movie started, I thought to myself, "This is a Guillermo del Toro film, and it has a creature in it. I'll bet a week's pay it stars Doug Jones!" Sure enough, five seconds later, Jones' name appeared in the credits!

Jones is a tall, lanky and freakishly thin actor, which makes him the perfect choice to play aliens and monsters. He's starred in at least five of del Toro's films as various creatures. His most famous role was probably Abe Sapien from the Hellboy movies.

You'd have to be blind to not notice that the Asset looks a LOT like Abe. In fact he looks so much like him that I'm not quite sure how del Toro isn't being sued by Hellboy & Abe Sapien creator Mike Mignola. Maybe the two of them worked out some sort of deal?

 The Shape Of Water is a very subversive film, one that constantly undermines the audience's expectations.

First of all, the three main characters in the film are all members of traditionally marginalized groups. Elisa has a disability, and as such is often overlooked and ignored. Zelda's black, and has to endure constant prejudice and racism. Giles is gay, and is forced to live a lonely, closeted life.

And yet the three of them are the most powerful characters in the film— the ones with the loudest voices, and the ones who prevail in the end. Contrast this to the "bad" characters in the film, who all represent old-school, conservative values.

The film also makes some pretty subversive statements about "acceptable" relationships. Strickland has the traditional nuclear family, consisting of a wife, 2.5 kids and a house with a picket fence. His family is perfect, decent and normal the American Dream. And yet he hates every second he has to spend with them.

Contrast this with Elisa, who chooses a more unconventional and "forbidden" romance, and ends up deliriously happy. I'm not quite sure, but I think maybe del Toro's trying to tell us something there.

Lastly, the movie somehow manages to gloss over the whole bestiality thing and make Elisa's relationship with the Asset seem like the most natural thing in the world— despite the fact that she's basically screwing an animal! Not sure how they did it, but kudos for managing to pull it off!

 As I mentioned above, the movie features a top notch cast who all turn in wonderful performances. Sally Hawkins in particular does an amazing job as Elisa, giving her a wide range of emotions without saying a single word. It really is an incredible performance.

Octavia Spencer is wonderful as well as Elisa's work mate Zelda Fuller. She doesn't get as much screen time as Hawkins, but she makes up for it by stealing every scene she's in.

Michael Shannon is also a standout as the villainous Col. Strickland. Shannon gives Strickland some real depth and complexity, preventing him from becoming just another cardboard villain.

Lately Shannon's become the go-to guy when you need an intense, menacing presence in a movie. And no wonder! Look at that face! That's the mug of an unpredictable sociopath who could snap at any given second. 

Can you imagine Michael Shannon ever trying to play the romantic lead in a film? There's no way!

 Elisa has quite the unusual apartment. It looks like it used to be one large loft, but her landlord split it right down the middle and turned it into two units one rented by Elisa, the other by Giles. You can tell this by the fact that the dividing wall splits the large, semi-circular window in half.

 Foreshadowing alert! When Elisa's getting ready for work, she stares in the mirror at the three angled "scars" on each side of her neck. I'm assuming we're supposed to think these marks are the remnants of the accident that robbed her of her voice. At the end of the film we find out they're actually dormant gills.

I dunno about anyone else, but I just assumed they were gills from the second I saw them. What else could they be? They were all parallel to one another, and in the same exact place on both sides of her neck. Were we supposed to think someone attacked her with two garden forks? How could they be anything but gills? I was surprised when I realized the gill reveal was supposed to be a shocking twist.

 I liked the way the film handled Elisa's subtitles. Rather than appearing at the bottom of the screen as in most movies, hers are placed next to her head. This allows us to read what she's saying, while still getting a good look at the expression on her face. It's a pretty good idea.

Note though that in the scenes with the Russian agents, their subtitles all appear at the bottom of the screen as usual. I guess del Toro didn't think we needed to pay attention to their faces?

 Elisa and her pal Zelda work at the Occam Aerospace Research Center, a top secret (well, sort of) government lab and think tank.

So what's with that name? In philosophy, Occam's Razor is the notion that says when there's more than one explanation for an occurrence, the simplest one is generally the best.

What's that got to do with a research center? I'm not exactly sure, but I have a hunch. After the Asset is abducted from the lab, Strickland comes up with an elaborate theory, assuming a strike team of Soviet agents were behind the whole thing. It never once occurs to him to suspect Elisa, which of course would have been the simplest answer.

Is that the answer? Did I get it right?

 Every time I see this scene it makes me laugh. I love the idea of Zelda dusting a giant jet engine.

• When Strickland first appears at the Institute, he interviews the entire staff. He looks over Elisa's file and notes that her last name of Esposito means "orphan." Eh... that's kind of true.

Esposito is an Italian word that literally means "placed outside" or "exposed." The name was often given to infants who were abandoned on the doorsteps of orphanages. These children were called espositi, because they were "exposed" in a public place. After the unification of Italy, it became illegal to give a child a surname which reflected its origin.

So Strickland is technically correct here. The best kind of correct!

 The Shape Of Water is positively lousy with symbolism— some of it obvious, some a bit more subtle.

As you might expect from the title, water plays a big part in the film. As part of her daily routine, Elisa always boils eggs for her lunch, and masturbates in her tub while they're cooking (!). It's constantly raining in her city as well. And at one point she even floods her entire bathroom with water all the way to the ceiling!

There's some definite foot symbology going on as well. Elisa has a huge collection of shoes in her apartment, and each night she carefully selects a pair and polishes them before work.

Also, Giles' TV is always playing old musicals, which feature dance numbers. Elisa seems fascinated by them, and she and Giles even "dance" together while sitting on the couch. Later Elisa leaves for work, and does a little tap dance down the hall.

There's also a dream sequence in which Elisa and the Asset perform an elaborate song and dance number.

Finally at the end of the film, Elisa joins the Asset underwater. We see one of her shoes slip off her foot and slowly sink into the depths.

Nothing's ever put into a film at random, so these scenes obviously mean something. But what? I've thought about it quite a bit, and I'm convinced the Foot Theme represents Elisa's link to the land. The constant shots of her dancing and such show us she has an attachment to the ground, and a normal existence. 

Once she chooses to start a new life under the sea with the Asset, she loses her shoe. She's literally casting off her last link to the surface world.

Even more symbolism whenever we see Elisa eat, she's munching away on hard boiled eggs. These eggs play a big role later on, when she places them on the edge of the Asset's tank, to lure him out into the open.

Did you get that? She's literally tempting this virile, masculine creature with her eggs!

Jesus, there's even symbology in Elisa's "Phrase A Day" calendar!

Lastly, there's Strickland's fingers. Early in the film he tortures the Asset, which defends itself by tearing off his ring and pinky fingers. Fortunately doctors are able to reattach them.

Unfortunately the surgery is less than successful, and as the film progresses, Strickland's fingers begin putrefying and turning increasingly black.

Obviously this decay represents the blackening of Strickland's soul, along with his slow decent into madness.

 Color plays a MAJOR symbolic role in The Shape Of Water as well, signifying various things throughout the film.

For example, the entire film has a very obvious teal-green tint. The color pops up in virtually every frame of the movie, and is used to symbolize anything artificial and futuristic. For example, everything inside the Occam Institute is teal.

The walls, the machinery and even the uniforms of the custodial staff are all teal.

Heck, even the goddamned time cards are teal!

Strickland's brand new Cadillac is teal as well. The car salesman tells him "it's the color of the future."

In a similar vein, green is used to symbolize anything unpleasant or ominous. Giles paints an ad featuring a family enjoying red Jello. His boss forces him to redo the entire layout and make the Jello green. This ultimately results in him losing his job. Later we see Strickland's wife tries to serve him a green Jello mold, which he can barely stand to look at!

Giles constantly drags Elisa to Dixie Doug's for some green Key Lime Pie, which they both admit tastes terrible. 

At the Occam Institute, the Asset's tank is filled with foul-looking, brackish green water.

And Strickland constantly munches on bright green, "cheap" candies.

And then there's the color of Elisa's wardrobe. When we first see her, she wears drab, dull clothing that's usually some shade of teal or green.

Immediately after she, um, couples with the Asset for the first time, she starts wearing bright red clothing! It's pretty obvious this is meant to symbolize her sexual awakening— you know, with the blood and The Curse Of Eve and all that.

 All through the film we see that the Research Center is filled with security cameras and monitors, which Strickland constantly watches like a hawk. Oddly enough there doesn't appear to be a single camera inside the Asset lab! This of course allows Elisa to come and go as she pleases and frolic with the Gill Man whenever she wants. Well, that was certainly convenient!

If the government really thinks this creature was so valuable, why isn't there an entire team of scientists in the lab studying it around the clock? Dr. Hoffstetler even mentions on multiple occasions that time is of the essence here, as they're hoping to use the secrets of the Asset to beat the Russians into space. Yet everyone goes home promptly at 5pm, leaving the lab completely deserted all night!

Look, I get it. If there were any cameras or scientists in the lab, then Elisa wouldn't have been able to sneak in and bond with the creature and then there'd be no movie. But surely there was a better way to handle this plot hiccup.

 As I mentioned earlier, at one point Strickland gets two of his fingers slashed off by the Asset. They're eventually recovered and doctors are able to reattach them. Eh, I dunno. I may be mistaken, but I don't think reattachment surgery was a thing in 1962.

Even if it was, Strickland mentions the reattachment surgery took just three hours! Wow! That'd be speedy even here in the present day!

 Shortly after the Asset arrives in the lab, Elisa becomes curious and sneaks in to see it. She fearlessly sits on the edge of its pool, and lures it over with a hard boiled egg. Suddenly it rises up out of the water, revealing itself in all its monstrous glory. Elisa just stares at it, as if this is an everyday occurrence. Even when it roars at her, she's nonplussed and offers it an egg.


Just a day or two ago Elisa saw the Asset violently rip off two of Strickland's fingers. So of course it's only natural that's she'd sit demurely within reach of this unpredictable and potentially dangerous creature and offer it an egg. How the hell does she know he won't just take a swipe at her and remove her head?

It definitely feels like there's a scene or two missing here. The movie needed a couple shots of her warily leaving the Asset an egg for a couple of nights and gaining its trust before approaching it so boldly.

On the other hand, I suppose we could say she's a kindred spirit and senses the Asset won't hurt her. I suppose we could say that, but I don't know why we should.

 Dropped subplot: one night when Elisa visits the Asset, she's interrupted by Strickland. She then drops one of her trademark hard boiled eggs as she runs and hides. Strickland sees the egg on the floor, picks it up and gives the camera a patented, terrifying Michael Shannon sneer.

It seems for all the world like the jig is up at this point, and Strickland's gonna trace the egg back to Elisa. Oddly enough, this little subplot is immediately dropped from the film and never comes up again! Weird.

Granted Strickland may not have ever seen Elisa eating eggs every night, and so never made the connection. But one would think that after this incident, a paranoid chap like him , might start checking people's lunches.

It's also possible that Strickland realized the egg belonged to Elisa, but because he sees women as second-class citizens, it would never occur to him that she had the brain power to plot and plan behind his back.

 After the Asset is abducted, a furious Strickland interrogates the entire staff, including Elisa and Zelda. After getting nowhere with them he says, "What am I doing, interviewing the help?"

Maybe I'm reaching here, but I bet that line's actually a reference to Octavia Spencer, aka Zelda, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role in 2011's The Help.

 I love Strickland's awesome 1960s house inside and out! In fact I wish I had one just like it.

 Strickland mentions several times that he found the Asset living in a South American river. Later when Elisa's abducting the Asset, Dr. Hoffstetler gives her tips on its care and feeding, telling her to put lots of salt in its water.

Um... pretty sure there are no salt water rivers anywhere on Earth.

• After Elisa has sex with the Asset, she takes the bus to work in the rain, of course. As she rides along, she absentmindedly starts tracing her finger back and forth on the bus' steamed-up window. Amazingly, the water droplets begin following her finger, as if she's somehow controlling them!

So... did the Asset somehow pass this power onto her? Or has Elisa always had the ability to control water, but it laid dormant until the Asset woke it up?

I vote for the latter. It's heavily implied throughout the film that Elisa may not be totally human. We're told that she was "found next to a river," and taken to an orphanage. She also can't speak, seems more at home in the water than on land and has vestigial gills. It's pretty obvious that she's supposed to be some sort of sea creature herself.

• Although I loved this film, I wasn't a fan of the big song & dance number that Elisa dreams up in the third act. I especially hated the fact that Elisa could sing in her dreams. It completely destroyed the illusion for me, and reminded me of the fact I was watching a movie.

• Director Trademark: At the end of the movie, Dr. Hoffstetler gets shot in the face by his fellow Russian agents. Strickland kills the agents, and then tortures Hoffstetler by graphically sticking his finger in the hole in the side of his face and dragging him along.

Del Toro must have a thing for facial injuries. In Pan's Labyrinth, the sadistic Captain Vidal gets his mouth sliced open, and sews it back together himself in the film's most gruesome scene.

• Elisa decides to wait until the "rainy season" starts and floods the canal, so she can release the Asset back into the sea. Um... why? Seems like she could have just led him to the pier and he could have jumped on in the ocean!

Maybe she didn't want to see him go and that was a good way to stall.

The Shape Of Water is an adult fairy tale that's subversive, symbolic and just plain great. It's filled with amazing performances, features a compelling, well-written story and looks like it cost ten times more than it did. I honestly can't say enough good things about it. I give it a very rare A!


  1. Apparently the very first reattachment surgery was actually completed in 1962! A young boys arm was surgically reattached to his body. The first finger surgery was the following year.

    So it did begin at that time but was in its very infancy (which would explain why in the film it was a failure!).

  2. Interesting! I'd have thought reattachment surgery began in the early 70s at the earliest. I should have looked it up.


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