Hey Nerds! I know I’m a little late to the game on this one, but I finally had the chance to see The Shape of Water over the weekend, and I wanted to put in my two cents about it.
Just as a warning–because I know that there are so many people that absolutely love this film–I did not like this movie. My review, however, is not intended to bash it in any way. I have a lot of thoughts about it though, and I wanted to get them out in the open. I have a great deal of respect for this film, its creation, and all those involved. SPOILERS AHEAD.
First of all: I wanted to like this film so bad. I was excited for it when I first saw the trailer, and I was thrilled to get the chance to go see it when a friend of mine invited me along. I was even holding out hope as we were in the theater watching the film, while my friend muttered under her breath, “Oh my god, I really don’t like this movie.” I was in this movie’s corner up until the last 20 minutes, and then that settled it: I did not like The Shape of Water as much as I had anticipated.
I understand why so many people rave about this film, though, because there are so many wonderful things to like about it, which I’ll get into in a bit (I’m leaving that towards the end and getting the painful stuff out of the way first). However, I had some major grievances with this movie once I stepped out of the theater and was able to process it on the drive home.
I came to the conclusion later on that night that the reason why I didn’t like it as much as I had hoped was because it made me feel so uncomfortable for most of it. Let me explain.
The two main factors for why I felt so uncomfortable were actually the main protagonist and antagonist: Eliza (Sally Hawkins), a mute woman who works as a cleaning lady in a US government facility; and Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), the government agent who brings to the aforementioned facility a humanoid amphibian creature (Doug Jones).
Eliza, while she is charming and adorable in many instances, seems a little too desperate. Her relationship with Amphibian Man escalates too quickly, and I think it’s because Eliza desperately wants a relationship, and she doesn’t necessarily care who she is in a relationship with. While it’s understandable as to why she feels such a connection with Amphibian Man–a point she makes touchingly to her friend and neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins)–I’m wish more of that connection was established early on.
To me, it would have made more sense for Eliza to be introduced to Amphibian Man, develop a curiosity for him, sneak into the lab where he is being held just to satiate this curiosity, and over time the two of them develop this friendship, he learns some sign language, and they both have this mutual understanding. Then the romance can blossom from there.
As I watched the film, though, what I gathered from her frequent visits to Amphibian Man was that she was trying to woo him, which we see in scenes where she brings her record player, brings him eggs so they can eat together, dances for him, and looks longingly into his fishy eyes. (Let me take a brief pause here to state that I did know that there would be interspecies sex alluded to in this film, which did not bother me.) I think that showing this so prominently very early on is what solidified my opinion of her as being overtly desperate.
I get that this film is an unconventional love story, which I am 100% onboard for, but their relationship was too blatant from the beginning, and I think it’s because they made Eliza so sex hungry right from the get-go. I think that’s why I felt so uncomfortable with her was because this was shown unashamedly, so when those loving moments of the two of them bonding did come up, it felt forced in a way, and any romanticism that was supposed to be there was lost.
But hey, she got her fish man in the end, so that’s admirable.
Also, I understand this film was going to be quirky and different (which I usually gravitate towards), but I could not get over how ridiculous her daydream where she and Amphibian Man have a black & white-style musical dance sequence to “You’ll Never Know.” They should’ve put Amphibian Man in a tux with tails and a top hat.
Now, onto the main antagonist: Strickland.
While I understand that storytellers and filmmakers need to make their antagonists/villains despicable to the audience, Richard Strickland was WAY too despicable. He was grossly gross. He was so unlikeable, I kept thinking of all of the reasons why I hated him when I should’ve been paying attention to the movie.
Not only is he an uber macho man who thinks too highly of himself, he’s also just gross in the purest form of the definition: he washes his hands BEFORE he pees, wields his ding-a-ling all over the damn place besides the urinal, rips off his dead fingers on his own (EWWW), makes the creepiest pass at Eliza, and just says the most bro things anyone could think up.
We also get a scene of him and his wife getting busy, which was somewhat out-of-place, but even that was creepy. He just gave me the heebie jeebies any time he was on screen, and it completely took me out of the movie.
And, because he was shown so many times throughout the film as being this creepy jackass, I felt somewhat triggered whenever he was in a scene. I felt like I was getting victimized by him, which I guess is a good thing from a filmmaker/actor’s standpoint because they did their jobs well, but it was too much all at once, which ultimately spoiled the milk for me.
Also, why did he go catch Amphibian Man? Maybe it was stated at some point during the film, but it was completely lost to me.
While you may not believe it at this point, there were a ton of things I did love about this film, the primary example being the secondary characters: Giles, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg).
Giles was perhaps my favorite, as he seemed to be the most genuine character in the whole film. He has his own demons he faces, he is struggling to find companionship of his own (outside of his friendship with Eliza), and he is logical. I enjoyed seeing his relationship with Eliza because it wasn’t necessarily fatherly, but rather a mutual understanding of the hardships each had been through. He’s also a cat man, and I can dig that.
Zelda is feisty and real–a character type the Octavia Spencer plays very well–and I wish I could’ve seen them utilize Spencer’s acting talents a bit more throughout. And Dr. Hoffstetler, while he’s a double-double agent, is sincere, and just wants to be a scientist with morals.
Additionally, Doug Jones’s performance as Amphibian Man is astounding. That suit could not have been easy to maneuver in, and yet he moves so gracefully, as though he really is this mystical creature from the Amazon. I’m also a big Doug Jones fan, which was pretty much the main reason why I wanted to see this movie.*
The other thing I loved about this film were the sets and costumes. Taking place in the 1950s, the sets were charmingly retro. I said to my friend right after the film started, “I could live in a place like this. It’s so pretty!” But while the setting was definitely the 1950s for better or for worse (as evidenced by the racism, homophobia, and gender inequality), in a lot of ways it was an idealized version of the time period–a whimsical version, if you will. This was achieved by the use of color, in particular. The use of color to convey the emotions of everyone’s surroundings brought it to life for me, in addition to the rich vintage-inspired wardrobe everyone sported, which genuinely reflected who each character was.
To sum up, more or less, I did not hate The Shape of Water. There were many moment that I feel could’ve been tweaked a bit or re-written, but it fell flat for me in the end. While there were definitely aspects of the film that I enjoyed, I still can’t shake how overwhelmingly uncomfortable major portions made me feel. I don’t believe it was intentional in any way, but to me personally, I feel like certain elements could’ve been taken out and the movie would still be beloved.
Will I ever watch it again? Probably not. Am I glad I did see it and satiate my curiosity? For sure. Do I think you should go see it? Why not? So many others who have seen it genuinely enjoy it, and there are definitely beautiful sequences to it that are enjoyable.
Whew! I know this was a long one, folks, so if you’ve made it this far, I congratulate you! If you’ve completed my lengthy review, I reward you with one of my favorite Instagram accounts I’ve just discovered:
Have you seen The Shape of Water? What did you think? Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know down below!
Life was meant to be lived nerdily, so what are you waiting for?