From visionary director Guillermo del Toro, of Pan’s Labrynth fame, comes a fantasy romance film that blew its competition out of the water at the 90th Academy Awards ceremony. Nominated in thirteen categories, The Shape of Water won Oscars for Best Production Design, Best Original Score, Best Director, and the pinnacle of filmmaking, Best Picture. Up against memorable selections like Get Out, Lady Bird, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, and more, it won against stiff competition, and not every critic agreed that it was worthy of the top accolade.
Following the life of a mute cleaner at a government facility in early 1960s Baltimore, the story as concocted by Guillermo del Toro takes a unique turn when she falls in love with a part-man-part-fish who is kept at the facility as a research test subject. Years later, people are still talking about the merits of the film, and if that isn’t proof positive that it deserved every last golden statue, we rounded up seven reasons why The Shape of Water holds up to this day. Whether it’s the incredible performances from talented actors, inventive plot, or set design that grounds the period piece in a reality full of fantastic elements, the timeless movie is no doubt worth a watch if you didn’t catch it the first time, and will remain an important part of cinema history long into the future
The Script Is Wholly Unlike Films Being Made Today
The plot of the movie, as well as the dialogue, is so special compared to the usual blockbuster hits or indie fare of today. While watching the movie, it’s easy to forget how outlandish the concept is, getting swept up by the characters and the story. This is the magic of Academy-worthy filmmaking, it makes us empathize with characters we have nothing in common with, finding ourselves rooting for a woman’s relationship with a fish-man who subsists exclusively on eggs.
Sally Hawkins Nails Her Role As Quirky Cleaning Lady
Prior to appearing in The Shape of Water, British actress Sally Hawkins already had an award-winning acting career spanning continents. After seeing the film, it’s impossible to imagine anyone else tackling the role with such a comprehensive understanding of the character. A mute woman living a quiet, simple life, she opens up, transforming as she falls in love with another being who understands what it feels like to live life on the fringes of society.
The Score Is An Absolute Home Run
The score of the film is by legendary composer Alexandre Desplat. Desplat has racked up awards from BAFTAs to Césars to Oscars, scoring a seemingly endless cavalcade of commercially successful and critically acclaimed movies, with titles like Argo, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Parts I & II, and so many more. To make the score, Desplat worked with del Toro to create music that actually contained waves, hoping to create a “warm” sensation evocative of the feeling of falling in love.
Octavia Spencer Slays As The Sidekick
Actress Octavia Spencer is best known for her pivotal roles in movies such as Hidden Figures and The Help. While she was a supporting character in the film, it wouldn’t have worked without her character, who served a crucial role in the film. As a fellow cleaner at the government facility, and close friend of Sally Hawkins’ protagonist character, she becomes aware of Hawkins’ budding romance and helps her sneak around to see her aquatic friend.
Production Design Makes The World Feel Real
Production design is so often overlooked in filmmaking, as audiences focus more on acting performances and camerawork. But production design, when done right, does become almost invisible, as it immerses us in the world of the film, allowing the story to play out. For The Shape of Water, the director and production designer went through thousands of paint colors to decide the exact right one for Hawkins’ character’s apartment, choosing to keep a color scheme of murky browns, greys, and rusty greens throughout the stylish movie.
Specific Plot Details Make A Riveting Story
While the film could have existed without the backdrop of the Cold War, and would have still had plenty of source material to work with, grounding the supernatural film in historical fiction makes for a mesmerizing watch. Not only is Hawkins working to steal her beloved from a top-secret government facility, but she’s also working together with a Russian spy to save him from being dissected by the Americans. Upon successfully sneaking the fish-man out, Hawkins keeps him in her bathtub, where she discovers his power to heal wounds, physical and perhaps emotional too.
The Fish-Man/Human Romance Is Fascinating To Watch
While the internet discourse was quick to make fun of the movie, dismissing it as a weird story of a woman falling for a fish, the novel idea at the heart of the movie is what makes it so special. Knowing the basics of the plot beforehand, it becomes almost a challenge, daring the movie to make you root for the inter-species relationship. This is where The Shape of Water succeeds, converting even the staunchest critics into romantics, enamored by the couple’s beautifully-told unlikely story.