Guillermo Del Toro’s film The Shape of water is a classic story about love and how love overcomes fear. The movie takes place in 1962, during the height of the cold war between America and Russia (Del Toro). In the film, the main character Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute cleaning lady who works for a secret military laboratory for the united states government. Elisa was orphaned as a baby and found by a river with injuries on her neck which is why she is mute. This plays a role in the film later. Elisa works late nights at the lab with her best friend Zelda (Octavia spencer) who is a black woman, they learn about an aquatic fish creature the military is housing at the facility and Elisa forms a relationship with him. The military wants to kill the creature to learn more about him so Elisa devises a plan to break him out. She cannot do it alone so she seeks help from her other friend and neighbor Giles, who is actually a closeted gay man. The three characters act as one to free the creature and in their quest to do they show how love could overcome fear and how important love can be. The three characters are also a representation of oppression in the 1960’s. People who were different in that time were discriminated against and life was difficult. Proof of this is “The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the landmark legislation in the United States prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (Smita). The movie took place in 1962 and this Law didn’t even pass for another two years. Guillermo Del Toro states to The National magazine that “he is really talking about today and what it feels like to be an outsider or part of a minority, who in story terms is represented by characters in the film (Del Toro).
In the beginning of the movie, Elisa and Zelda are making their rounds moping and cleaning the facility when they suddenly get called to clean up a mess. Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) greets them, He tells them “Let me say this up-front: You clean that lab, you get out. The thing we keep in there is an affront. Do you know what an affront is, Zelda?” She replies, “Something offensive?” and Strickland goes on to say “That’s right. And I should know, I dragged that… filthy thing… out of the river muck in South America all the way here… Now. You may think, “That thing looks human.” Stands on two legs, right? But – we’re created in the Lord’s image. You don’t think that’s what the Lord looks like, do you?” (Shape of water). This is where we learn what type of person Strickland is. He is a white man, and fits into the cookie cutter lifestyle that is 1960’s America (Lansford). His character represents what one should be during this time and what is considered the norm and what is acceptable. He rejects the creature because he is different. In the movie, he becomes the antagonist when we see how he treats the creature despite knowing it’s value. Strickland tries multiple times to communicate with it but since he approaches with fear and hate, and treats the creature like a monster the creature does not respond, he fights. All the while Elisa is having nightly visits with the creature, and over time discovers the creature’s capability to communicate and understand her. She relates to him because like her, he does not have a voice. Since this is the military, and it is during the cold war, Strickland decides he wants the scientist in the lab to kill it, cut it open and study it to gain a leg up on the Russians. One of the scientist objects and says he “did not want a beautiful, intricate thing destroyed” (shape of water). He witnessed the interaction between Elisa and the creature and he too learns to love the creature. Strickland fails to ever see this and decides to move forward with the plan to kill the creature. Elisa learns about this and turns to her friend Giles for help. They devise a plan to break him out, and it almost doesn’t work but the scientist who objected killing the creature comes to their aid, as well as Zelda who also rejected the idea breaking him out. All of the outcast came together to stick it to the man. The plan is a success and eventually they get the creature out. The next challenge is not getting caught. Just as Elisa is taking her beloved to the ocean to be freed, she is gunned down by Strickland and so is the creature. Giles is witness, and see’s that the bullets do not affect the creature. He heals himself and Elisa. The Creature kills Strickland and Strickland’s final words are “you really are a god”. He only accepts this when he’s about to die which says a lot about his character. After this the creature takes Elisa into the water and turns her scars on her neck into gills. At this point you do not know what happens to them did they live happily ever after? Did she die? It’s not known.
Even though the story is told like a fairy tale, a lot of the characters go through did happen in America during those times (Smita). Which is why the movie uses both ethos and logos. If you were different in those times you weren’t treated fairly and you were out casted (Smita). The movie is obviously very heavy on Pathos as well. As Sally Hawkins character fall’s more and more in love with the creature you feel for him and sympathies with the creature. Guillermo Del Toro uses pathos in most of his movies to make his characters relatable and understandable.
Guillermo Del Toro states in one his interviews that he “chose 1962 because it’s a very important period in which America in many ways started defining its myth. You’re coming out of World War II there’s a huge abundance, the wealth and suburban wealth, you have a car in every garage, TV, self-cleaning ovens, petticoats and hairspray, the space race, Kennedy’s in the White House and there is this myth of greatness”. (Dixon) He then compares this to present day. He claims when people reference “Let’s make America great again” they are referencing an America which never existed (Dixon). I do find this to be partially true. When you analyze this how could America have been so great if segregation and discrimination was still present? It was great if you were white and weren’t gay, or disabled or a person of color. A counter argument people like to make is that they are referencing when America was thriving as a nation and growing with jobs and housing and becoming strong. The other argument is that when they hear “Let’s make America great again” they are thinking of the Ronald Regan era. This one contradicts itself because Ronald Ragan used “Let’s make America great again” in his inauguration speech and he was actually referencing the 1950’s-1960’s so either way it refers to a time that was not so great. Guillermo likes to include these types of messages in his films to give them purpose.
Guillermo Del Toro has been nominated for films in the past, but shape of water landed him the Oscar for best director, best picture of 2018 which gives him credibility. His audience could be anyone who sees the film but people who like this film would be individuals who support movements like “times up” “me too” and “black lives matters” It’s important that we do not forget our past and that these messages stay strong so that we can come together and make a difference. I personally am just a Del Toro fan because of the beautiful way he tells stories. You can tell he puts a lot of work into his films. He is especially particular with the art department which is why I appreciate his films so much and the message behind them is an added bonus. The tone is always whimsical and goes between being serious and joyful.
Over all, I agree with Del Toro’s message. I love that all the main characters in the film had all the odds against them and they stood up for what they believe in and they didn’t let all the oppression stop them from doing what is right. The movie takes us back to a period in time where only a certain type of person was accepted and in this movie, they take the supposed “type” a white man, and turn him into an actual monster. In today’s world, its often the people who look normal who are the real monsters. They don’t see past their own ignorance and learn prejudice from others before them. They can’t accept ideas that don’t agree with their own. This is happening in America right now. I think Guillermo meant for this comparison because its truly happening before our eyes. And this film is another representation on how love is truly the answer and how love always conquers over fear.
The Shape of water. Directed by Guillermo Del Toro, Screenplay by Vanessa Taylor, Performances by Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Doug Jones. Fox Searchlight Pictures. TSG Entertainment, 2017.
This is the citation for the film. Many of the quotes I use are from the film because they communicate ideas Del Toro had to communicate his message.
Ramnarain, Smita. “Gender Discrimination.” Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice, edited by Sherwood Thompson, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1st edition, 2014. CredoReference,https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/rowmandasj/gender_discrimination/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 11 Mar 2018.
This is an academic journal I found on credo reference that talks about discrimination in the united states during the 1960s. I used this to back up Del Toros views on segregation. This source is credible because it is peer reviewed and scholarly.
Lansford, Tom M. “American Dream.” Encyclopedia of American Studies, edited by Simon Bronner, Johns Hopkins University Press, 1st edition, 2016. Credo Reference, https://search.credoreference.com/content/entry/jhueas/american_dream/0?institutionId=5312. Accessed 11 Mar 2018.
This source is an online Encyclopedia I found using credo reference. I used this to reference ideas on the original American dream and how it’s often sometimes a myth. This source is credible because it’s peer reviewed and scholarly.
Dixon, Marcus, and Chris Beachum. “Director Guillermo Del Toro Confesses That ‘The Shape of Water’ Is His Favorite Project Ever.” 26 Dec. 2017, Accessed 7 Mar. 2018.
I found this source through google. It was an interview I came across between Guillermo Del Toro and a few editors at Gold Derby Magazine. I used this interview to explain del toros claims that makes in the shape of water. I believe this to be a reliable source because these are Guillermo’s own words.
Applebaum, Stephen. “Guillermo Del Toro on the Deeper Meaning in ‘The Shape of Water’ .” The National, The National, 5 Mar. 2018, http://www.thenational.ae/arts-culture/film/guillermo-del-toro-on-the-deeper-meaning-in-the-shape-of-water-1.699621.