People ask me – what do I think about awards? And my answer always goes as follows: awards are unfair. There is no such thing as best film or best actor, because within an art form, picking one as the year’s best also entails leaving all other nominees at a distant, somehow depressing second place (never mind those who do not even manage to get nominated!). Notwithstanding this mistrust towards awards shows, I must admit that the Academy might get it right for once. The Shape of Water –which leads the field of Oscar nominees with 13 nods– is quite perhaps this year’s best film. Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth) has crafted a melancholic tale about compassion, one that will go straight to your heart and make you fall in love with movies all over again.
The movie zooms into the lives of Elisa (Sally Hawkins), her flat mate Giles (Richard Jenkins) and her best friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer) – who happen to be rather remarkable people, in their very own way. Their routines are suddenly shaken up by arrival of a top-secret government acquisition: a half man, half lizard creature. In getting across the story of how Elisa is captivated by this rare, mystifying being, “The Shape of Water” becomes a moving defense of outsiders, those who feel left out, battered or ridiculed, but who deserve to have their story told, just as much as everyone else does. They have all managed to remain hopeful and to vindicate their own parcel and sense of individuality. They build a life for themselves and this movie, through meticulous and dazzling production values, serves as the platform they use to speak out, loud and clear.
The Shape of Water, as a layered and complex work of art, has many possible readings. When I left the movie theater, swept away and devastated by the sheer beauty of what I had just seen, I chose to regard it from the lens of empathy. At the end of the day, Del Toro is asking us to focus on what unites us, despite our many differences. If the connection Elisa and this creature find with one another gives them so much joy, we should all make an effort to understand why this is and ultimately accept it.
The way this movie manages to capture the commonality of anyone’s day-to-day life will blow your mind. In Elisa, we see reflected every single person who has ever felt out of place, and Del Toro, with poised musicality and tenderness, wants us to remember that within the normal lies the monstrous, and vice-versa.