We’ve been trained to expect the unexpected from Guillermo del Toro.
The Mexican auteur has infused his unique vision and intelligence into movies about bizarre comic book antiheroes (“Hellboy” I & II), giant battle robots (“Pacific Rim”) and gothic horror (“Crimson Peak”), while investing the most of his singular design genius and psychological insight into smaller, more personal and historically informed pieces such as “Cronos,” “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth.”
Now del Toro has taken all of his creative passion to the wall with “The Shape of Water.” A fable like no other, it’s a Cold War-era tale of a mute janitor named Elisa Esposito (English actress Sally Hawkins) who falls in love with a recently discovered half-fish, half-man thing (del Toro’s go-to creature player Doug Jones in the scaly suit) being held at the secret government facility she cleans. With the help of her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), work partner Zelda (Octavia Spencer) and Soviet mole Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), Elisa plots the manimal’s escape from the unforgiving control of government agent Strickland (Michael Shannon).
And then discovers that she wouldn’t want to live without the creature.
Dizzyingly romantic and dazzlingly gorgeous, the movie, which picked up 3 awards (including for del Toro’s direction and Hawkins’ performance) at the L.A. Film Critics Association awards, addresses eternal American issues while staging sequence after sequence that only del Toro could have imagined. We talked to the filmmaker about what looks like the ultimate expression of his lifelong monster love.
Q: “The Shape of Water” seems like a culmination of all the themes, loves and obsessions from a quarter century of your work.
GdT: I feel it’s a strange synthesis and reformulation, because it’s the first vitalist movie that I’ve made. All the other movies have a sense of loss and melancholy, with the exception of the big ones like ‘Pacific Rim” and “Hellboy,” y’know? But this is the first of the smaller, more personal, stranger movies that I’m talking about leaving the theater not with a sense of crushing beauty, but with hopeful beauty.
By the way, the other part of that answer is that it requires 25 years as a filmmaker to pull this off. The…