Shape of Water delivers political allegory with strong emotion


Alex Tsymbalisty, Perspective Editor

A lot of media has been produced about the far-reaching period of the 1960s.

Some have been about the civil rights struggle, others have been about the looming possibility of a nuclear war and the political tensions between the United States and the USSR.

But very few pieces media manage to combine both of these elements while including a fresh idea or story. The Shape of Water not only does this, but does it exceptionally well.

From its depictions of the all-or-nothing competitiveness of both the US and the USSR to the cruel, and oftentimes passive-aggressive racism of the time, The Shape of Water captures the 1960s perfectly.

But, more importantly, it also creates a story of its own.

Sally Hawkins plays Elisa Esposito, a mute janitorial worker in a top secret United States research facility. It’s in this facility that she discovers an amphibious, human-like creature that US authorities captured in South America in order to figure out a way to breath in space and ultimately win the Space Race.

After her discovery the movie strays away from a typical sci-fi movie and more into romance or drama territory.

While cleaning, Elisa develops a relationship with this creature, feeding it eggs, and playing it music in her free time.

It’s here that I initially found a problem with the movie’s concept. Why would a top-secret government research facility allow two cleaning ladies to have such close contact with such a valuable asset?

The door to the creature isn’t guarded at all, and even Elisa seems to be able to sneak into the lab whenever she pleases. The scientists seem to make no effort to hide the creature from the very beginning. They even brought the creature into the enclosure while the cleaning ladies were in the lab.

But after I thought about it a bit more it made sense.

Elisa is mute and her cleaning partner is a black woman. Even if they did manage to get the secret out absolutely no one would have believed them.

After spending time with the creature, Elisa learns that the government wants to dissect it in order to learn more about its internal biology.

This is not only distressing to Elisa, but also to the undercover Russian scientist sent by the ruskies to learn about America’s secrets.

After informing his superiors about the American’s plans, Dimitri, the Russian scientist, is told that he must euthanize the creature before the Americans can learn more about its inner workings.

From here Elisa and her gang of social outcasts, including her gay neighbor Giles, her black coworker Zelda, and Dimitri orchestrate a way to get her amphibious lover out of his prison.

Despite their  successful prison break, Elisa’s trouble has only just begun as Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a ruthless government official who is determined to trace down the amphibious man and kill it.

This post-capture part is where The Shape of Water really shines as both a technical and conceptual masterpiece.

The love felt between Elisa and the amphibious creature is something that is portrayed perfectly, especially for a concept so “out there”.

The cinematics are pretty good throughout the movie but especially during this part of the movie. The most obvious example of this cinematic genius is the underwater dancing scene which is a hauntingly beautiful depiction of love between two unlikely characters.

This theme is seen until the very end, which sees Elisa’s voice box scars turn into gills, and she and the creature continuing their magnificent dance for the rest of their lives.