The Shape of Water

It is very difficult to find North American movies which feature romantic and/or sexual relationships between people with disabilities. Hollywood romances that deal with the issue of disability usually feature a couple with one able-bodied partner and one partner with a disability. It is only recently with the release of Guillermo del Toro’s wonderful film The Shape of Water, that the American movie industry has taken tentative steps towards remedying this situation.

The film, which takes place in early 1960s America, tells the story of Eliza, a mute janitor who works at a shadowy government facility, and her erotic and romantic relationship with an Amazonian fish man who is being held captive by unscrupulous government agents who regard him as a biological specimen and hope to turn his special talents into a weapon.

Sally Hawkins does a great job as Eliza. Her facial expressions speak volumes, and her performance proves that an actor can portray a character who is deeply sexual and sensual without being conventionally attractive. Hawkins was born in England to parents who are illustrators and authors of children’s books. She started her acting career in 1996, gaining international recognition in Happy-Go-Lucky in 2008. Her other successes have been in Blue Jasmine (2013), Paddington (2014), Maudie (2016) and Paddington 2 (2017).

Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery, Hellboy 2, The Watch, Pan’s Labyrinth) expertly plays the fish man, a complex character who, like Eliza, oozes eroticism in spite of the fact that he is a giant amphibian. He has to deal with restricted movement, facial expression and a lack of speech, but that makes him no less compelling as a character.

Richard Jenkins (The Visitor, Let Me In, Kong: Skull Island) gives a wonderfully sympathetic performance as Eliza’s gay best friend, as does Michael Stuhlbarg who plays a kind-hearted government scientist.

Octavia Spencer landed her first on-screen role in A Time to Kill (1995) and won both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for her role in The Help (2011). She received an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in Hidden Figures (2016) and has been nominated yet again for her role as Eliza’s spunky co-worker in The Shape of Water.

Michael Shannon has been nominated twice for best-supporting actor awards, in both cases for sympathetic roles, as a mentally ill man in Revolutionary Road, and a detective in Nocturnal Animals. In The Shape of Water he plays the film’s villain, a perpetually angry and fanatical government agent who is convinced that the US should win the cold war at any cost. Shannon is very good in the role, but it’s nothing his fans haven’t seen before. He played a similar role in the successful television series Boardwalk Empire.

I give this movie two thumbs up. It absolutely deserves a look.