Monday, June 18 , 2018, 10:43 pm | Fair 62º


Cinema in Focus: ‘The Shape of Water’

2 Stars — Shallow

There is no easy way to describe the values in a movie that is a combination drama-comedy-sci-fi-love story in which a mute janitor at a scientific laboratory falls in love and has sex with a sea creature from the black lagoons of South America.

As wacky as it sounds, it gets even stranger, or maybe funnier, when the two end up dancing together in a Busby Berkeley-style 1930s Hollywood musical number in The Shape of Water. All of this is centered on a story about the military trying to outwit the Communists in the space race in the late 1950s.

Can a recently found sea creature withstand the harrowing nature of space travel? Inquiring American minds want to know. After all, the Russians have just sent a dog into space following their successful launch of Sputnik, the first satellite placed into orbit around the earth. Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), a hard-nosed military leader and his minions want to know what is possible and they don’t have any inclination to believe that this sea creature is anything resembling a human, even though the natives where he was found considered it a “god.”

By chance, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), a janitorial staff member who happens to be mute since birth, finds that she has a strange, but wonderful, connection with the creature. She connects with it, or more appropriately “him” as she soon discovers, through music and sign language.

Aiding and abetting this liaison is her janitorial sidekick, Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), along with her sympathetic apartment neighbor, and a Russian spy who doesn’t want his communist bosses to kill the creature, either.

While you may laugh, or scratch your head, or be bewildered by the sex scenes, this fairy tale fantasy doesn’t really touch your heart in the same way Beauty and the Beast might have. This is more a wacky comedy than a love story, especially as they head off to the ocean to live happily ever after. With 13 Academy Award nominations, you have to remember that most of them are for technical areas of interest, because the film does boggle the mind in terms of its intricate and complex filming.

The only significant point of question about values comes from Elisa when she asks everyone how this creature is treated any different from the way everyone treats her as a mute. She shares that people have always treated her like she is less than human, but no one suggests that she is expendable.

She is the only one that has attempted to connect with the creature on any kind of human level, with respect, love and kindness. Needless to say, she doesn’t get much sympathy from the military nor the political leadership.

The Shape of Water is a good Saturday afternoon popcorn movie, but it isn’t going to inspire you to join an organization to “Save the Sea Monsters.” The story asks one or two good questions, but beyond that, it is more comic relief than insightful drama.

Needless to say, it did little to help us understand the American-Soviet space race or deepen our understanding of inter-species responsibility or love relationships.


» What do you believe is our responsibility toward the animals of this world? Are we their protectors, users, lovers?

» Did this film give you a better understanding of how people with disabilities can feel? Why do you answer as you do?

» IMDB lists the genre of this film as adventure and drama. What genre would you call this? Do you think it is a comedy, or romance, or sci-fi or some other genre?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is the retired pastor of Free Methodist Church of Santa Barbara and lead superintendent of Free Methodist Church in Southern California. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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