The Beauty within “The Shape of Water”

Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water”
Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito in “The Shape of Water” courtesy Fox Searchlight

Guillermo del Toro created a masterpiece directing his most recent film “The Shape of Water.”

The film follows the story of Elisa Esposito, a mute janitor working the midnight shift at a government facility in Baltimore, Massachusetts. Her usual cleaning routine is interrupted one night when a large container housing an aquatic creature is brought in and kept under tight security. Elisa finds herself assigned to clean the chamber where experiments are being conducted daily in the attempt to learn more of the creature’s biology. Finding the creature to be without a voice, a bond between the two begins to form. Without words, they find beauty in music, American Sign Language and within each other. Receiving 13 Oscar nominations, “The Shape of Water” combines its strong acting, captivating cinematography, carefully-crafted score and compelling story to create a film unlike any other.

Being a student of American Sign Language, I appreciated how well Sally Hawkins portrayed the character of Elisa. Her use of American Sign Language was done in a real and honest representation. She developed a beautiful style of her own, signing as naturally as someone who has done it for years. As a period piece set during the Cold War, Hawkins used the original form of certain signs which have been modified over time.

The quality of the film’s acting was only enhanced by its cinematography. The set design and precise camera work by Dan Lausten came together to truly create a visual piece of art. The opening scene instantly grabs your attention as a room submerged in the depths of a lake seamlessly transitions into Elisa’s bedroom. The overall style whisks you away into its beautiful world; a place where vibrant sunsets glow pink and orange, and the darkness of the night is cut away by bright neon lights. While visually stunning, it was the musical score which set the tone of the entire film.

Alexandre Desplat brought home the Golden Globe for best original score for a motion picture for his work with “The Shape of Water.” Creating his own music for the film, as well as using songs such as “You’ll Never Know,” “I Know Why (And So Do You)” and “Boom Chica Boom Chic,” Desplat stayed true to the film’s ‘60s setting. His use of music represents what the characters who are left without a voice, figuratively and literally, want to say.

With “The Shape of Water,” Del Toro represents difference as a heroic condition; whether it is the misunderstood creature imprisoned simply for his existence, the mute girl who thought she would never find love because of who she is, the gay neighbor who rarely shows his true colors for fear of becoming an outcast, the audience comes to identify with the marginalized. Conveying such a message in a way that does not feel overdone or “gimmicky” can be tough, but del Toro does so gracefully, evoking beauty in the depths of those who may look strange at first, but deep down are not so unlike ourselves.