Mute characters speak volumes in ‘Shape of Water’

© 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

“The Shape of Water” has been nominated for 13 Oscars, the most for this year’s awards, and it’s easy to see why.

In some ways “The Shape of Water” is a twist on the classic “Little Mermaid” tale. It’s set in the 1950s. The mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works as a cleaner for a research facility where scientists are studying a new creature, an unbelievable amphibian man (Doug Jones).

Elisa and the man learn to communicate with each other and develop a relationship. Elisa discovers his captor, Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), has deadly plans for the amphibian man, and she plans a rescue mission.

The story combines elements from all kinds of genres: fantasy, romance, musical, drama, comedy. Despite this wide-ranging blend, nothing is thrown out of alignment. The film is perfectly balanced.

The screenplay is masterfully written. The dialogue drips with dual meanings. Characters’ seemingly harmless comments or stories actually are meant to threaten and intimidate. Elisa uses sign language to share her thoughts and encourage others into positive action, but she is, at times, misunderstood.

Elisa doesn’t speak, but she doesn’t need to; everything is written plainly on her face. Her expressions show her joy in music, wonder of the amphibian man, fear of Strickland and love for characters like her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins) and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer). Elisa has everything she needs to endear herself to the audience and create a memorable character.

Jones, as the amphibian man, is stunning. Prosthetics and makeup make him an other-worldy creature. But like Elisa, he communicates with his movement and eyes, creating a character that still feels human.

Giles and Zelda are not just background extras, but contribute to some of the film’s more humorous moments, while adding depth to the story.

Visually, “The Shape of Water” also excels in terms of its sets, camera movements and lighting. The dark, rigid, cold atmosphere of the science lab contrasts with the warmth of Elisa’s apartment, shown through the homey set pieces, dance-like camera movement and brighter lighting to add yet another level of cinematic storytelling.

Topping it all off is a moving score by Alexandre Desplat that helps audiences feel the emotions on the screen, whether light-hearted, tender, loving, fearful, determined or sad.

From the first scene, audiences are caught up in the  wave of story, emotion, imagery, music and characters of “The Shape of Water.” Director Guillermo del Toro truly forms a cinematic masterpiece.

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