If we do nothing neither are we

If we do nothing neither are we

 

There are some in this world who hear music in the matter-of-course.

Their simple lives may not be the stuff of grand Hollywood spectacle, but it allows them certain small delights. It might be the colours the sky turns on their train ride to work every morning. It could be the way their sandwich wrapper crackles as they unwrap their lunch. These little slivers of joy would never be mistaken for luxuries; they’re more the sort of things Julie Andrews once sang about.

Still, to take true joy in them, one must have a certain disposition. One cannot be the sort who covets, and must approach every day with a certain amount of enthusiasm.

These are the loyal ones, the dreamers – the ones who believe in “the impossible”. THE SHAPE OF WATER is for them, and perhaps also for you.

It’s Baltimore in the 1960’s, and Elise (Sally Hawkins) is a mute custodian at an American military research facility. She lives a simple life in her apartment above a movie theatre, learning new things about the world around her, and taking delight in anything from a movie musical to the drawings of her neighbour Giles (Richard Jenkins).

One day, the research facility brings in something special and secretive. It comes to them by way of the spiritless and sadistic Col. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon). “The Asset” is an amphibious man – part Creature from The Black Lagoon, part John Coffey. The American government has him in the hopes of studying his rare physiology, and perhaps exploiting him in ways that will give them an edge in the space race.

The night Elise and her custodian partner, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), come face-to-face with The Asset, he has just relieved Col. Strickland of two fingers on his left hand. In cleaning up, Elise catches a glimpse of the creature, and finds herself…intrigued.

Upon her return, she reaches out to the creature by feeding it and teaching it a few simple phrases in sign language. Soon, she is playing it songs and feeding it boiled eggs. Eventually, these interactions catch the attention of Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) – a military researcher who doesn’t seem to agree with everything being thrust upon The Asset.

Interactions between Elise and The Asset bubble over, and soon she is trying to execute a plan to spring it loose, keep it safe, teach it about the world, and perhaps in the process, learn a bit about the world herself.

 

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Loyalty is a funny thing in the age we live in; so funny that it’s almost a true rarity.

Few of us anymore dedicate our lives to one employer, one community, hell – one spouse. Everything is seen as being about what best suits our needs at any one given time, be it a day or a decade.

From out of those waters wades this new story by Guillermo de Toro, one that wants to tell a fable about loyalty. It wants us to see that some, like Strickland are only loyal for their own interests, while others like Hoffstetler can be loyal to the greater good. Even Zelda and Giles will have their loyalty tested – since we forget sometimes that it is easy to be true when times are easy, but real allegiance is also needed when the storm clouds begin to gather.

That sense of loyalty is what’s at the heart of Beauty and The Beast, it’s what’s at the heart of The Bride of Frankenstein. The former wants to show the charm of devotion, the latter the risk. THE SHAPE OF WATER manages to blend the two.

In the middle of this fairy-tale-meets-monster-movie is a desire for true connection. It’s a story that speaks for anyone who has seen possibility for love in the eyes of the impossible. “The Impossible” might be someone of a different class, different league, or different zip code. They may be someone we aren’t supposed to speak to, or someone who is supposed to be speaking to someone else. But when the impossible looks our way, we realize we always wanted someone to look at us that way.

The impossible doesn’t know the rumours everyone else whispers about. The impossible didn’t see that embarrassing moment in front of the entire community. They don’t see our flaws, or our weaknesses – they see only the version of ourselves we want to be. They give us a chance to become that version.

Elisa sees The Asset only as something beautiful and extraordinary; it, in turn, sees her only as enchanting and empathetic. Connection with the impossible is achieved – and we can all believe in love triumphant.

At times, things seems to get taken a bit too far. The story becomes a bit less like a fairy tale, and more like fairy tale fan fiction. It’s not enough to sink the film, but it is enough to leave one feeling unsure. It’s as if someone has slipped bacon into your apple pie. It might work, but you’re not expecting it so your palette gets confused. Mixed into the batter of THE SHAPE OF WATER are tales of espionage, monster movies, musicals, and melodrama. For some, that might be one ingredient too many baked into the apple pie.

For the dreamers – for those who dare – THE SHAPE OF WATER is something to behold.

This is a story about believing that beauty can be found in the space between raindrops, and that the music in your head is worth sharing with just one other soul. This is a rare tale about recognizing something amazing regardless of where your loyalties lay.

 

Matineescore: ★ ★ ★ out of ★ ★ ★ ★
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