The Shape of Water is Story

The drought is over.

After a dearth of appealing films kept me out of movie theatres for all of 2017, I went to see Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water this weekend. Of course I’ve heard the hype–all the nominations and awards the film has already garnered. I’d also heard the catcalls claiming it was just another overdone creature feature trope with glitter.

The reviews only partly influenced my decision to quench my thirst on this particular film experience.  I’m a huge fan of Guillermo de Toro films, and Pan’s Labyrinth is one of my all time favorites, even though the experience left me devastated and sobbing. Since that film, I think I’ve seen most of his movies. As a fan, he’s on my “automatic buy” list–anything he puts out, I’m going to spend my money on it. To me, he’s not just a great director, he’s a master storyteller.

And thus the lesson.
Just like the opening paragraphs of any good novel, from the dreamy opening credits and music, I knew this is going to be good. Fantasy. Tone. Mood. Music. All set within the first few seconds. The (short) voiceover in the opening serves as the prolog for what will come, but the same voiceover at the end it wraps up the story, giving the film it’s final context.

With water as the predominant theme, it is echoed in the setting, the characters and their actions. Rain, boiling eggs, overflowing bathtubs, spilled water; even the colors used (key lime pie, green Jello, a cadillac, a lapel pin), and the muteness of the two protagonists all mirror the effects set in the opening scene, reminding the audience that we are in a special place.

In contrast, the conflicts are hard-edged and real. Violent. Cruel. Electric. A ticking clock elevates the tension, the stakes are high.  Death. Betrayal. Loss.  The story could have been set anywhere or any time, but a secret research facility in the paranoia of the early 1960’s is a perfect contrast to the dreamy cocoon of an apartment above the perfectly-named Orpheus Theatre in downtown Baltimore (Orpheus. Get it? Perfect).

You know the trope. Thanks to the critics and the marketing, you probably already know the story, but it doesn’t matter.  We come to story for the experience.  For the emotional journey.  Yes, the film is a fairy tale.  But more than that, The Shape of Water is Story, told by a master, with the most beautiful music (composed by Alexandre Desplat), cinematography (Dan Laustsen), and cast that will make you forget everything but the wondrous tale that unfolds before you.

Go see it.

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