The Shape of Water is rated 15 for strong violence, language, sex, nudity
It’s the height of the Cold War, and Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner at a military facility in Baltimore. She’s isolated by her disability – she’s mute – but has two true friends in Giles (Richard Jenkins), her artist neighbour, and Zelda (Octavia Spencer), her warmhearted co-worker.
When a man called Strickland (Michael Shannon) arrives at the facility with a mysterious ‘asset’ in tow, Elisa is immediately intrigued. This scaly creature (Doug Jones), worshipped as a God by Amazon tribes, is in danger of being killed and dissected by a government only interested in gaining an advantage over the Russians.
Elisa vows to save him – and in the process her tentative bond with the creature becomes a strange and wonderful love affair.
Yes, it’s ‘that film with the fish man’. By far the strangest thing about Guillermo Del Toro’s Beauty and the Beast fable is how purely, unabashedly romantic it is. Think that you can’t root for a woman who’s falling in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Think again.
This feels like everything cinema ought to be: warm, tender, dark, frightening and uplifting by turns. Sally Hawkins is as luminous as ever as a woman who’s mute but far from silent, matched by lovely turns from Jenkins, Spencer, and the legendary Doug Jones – as well as an affecting Michael Stuhlberg as the conflicted Dr Hoffstetler. Michael Shannon’s villain is so effective that I felt physically nauseous whenever he was onscreen (though that may just have been the septic fingers…).
There are some films which sweep you away to another place and make you forget the world for a few hours. This is one for the weirdos, the outsiders – and anyone who’s ever felt lonely.
- Did you enjoy the film, and why or why not? How much did you know about it going in, and was it what you expected?
- Have you seen any other films directed by Guillermo Del Toro? How did The Shape of Water compare? How would you describe the style of his films, and what kind of ideas seem to interest him?
- How did you react to the film’s performances? What did Sally Hawkins bring to the role of Elisa, and did anything surprise you about the character? Which character or relationship were you most invested in?
- What did you think of the look of the film, including the design of the sets and of the creature?
- Why do you think the filmmakers chose Cold War America as the setting for this story? What particular cultural fears were in the air at the time, and how are they echoed in this story? Are there any parallels in our current time?
‘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?’ – Strickland
- What made Strickland an effective villain? What do we learn about him and his motives throughout the story? What attitudes and ideas does he embody?
- What does the film have to say about loneliness? Which of the characters are lonely, and why? Why do you think so many people are lonely in our own society?
‘When he looks at me, the way he looks at me – he does not know what I lack, or how I am incomplete. He sees me, for what I am, as I am.’ – Eliza
- How does the connection between Eliza and the creature develop? How – and our effectively – does the film overcome any reservations we might have about their romance?
- What do you imagine might have happened to the characters after the credits rolled? Were you left with any questions?
- Why do you think ‘Beauty and the Beast’ stories are so popular in our culture? How do they challenge our ideas about who is and isn’t worthy of love? Why is it so powerful to be seen and loved ‘as we are’?