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“The Shape of Water” Addresses What Makes Us Human

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Guillermo Del Toro’s odd and sensual romance story, “The Shape of Water,” freely addresses sex, sexuality, and all the things that bring us closer to, and separate us from, our humanity.

Based in Cold War America—Baltimore in 1962, to be exact—we follow the monotonous life of a mute woman named Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins), who lives above a movie theater. She is both neighbors and friends with an elderly homosexual artist named Giles (Richard Jenkins), and works as a janitor alongside her friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) at a research facility.

Sally Hawkins (character: Elisa)
Credit: Martin J. Kraft

Elisa’s days of repetitively shining her shoes and other such boring activities begin to be disturbed when two new creatures enter her place of work, destined to ultimately unravel her life: the Amphibian Man only known as the Asset (Doug Jones), who is brought to the facility, and Colonel Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon), the discoverer of the Asset, who comes along with him.

Elisa forms a strange but loving connection with the Asset, communicating through sign language and teaching him about human things like music and hard-boiled eggs.

Meanwhile, the Americans—the cruel and disgusting Colonel, and his boss, General Hoyt (Nick Searcy)—and the Russians—the gentle undercover spy and scientist at the facility, Doctor Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), and his boss—are fighting, not for possession of the Asset, but for the other side not to possess him.

But when the Colonel, the General, and Dr. Hoffstetler’s boss all want the Asset dead, Elisa and Dr. Hoffstetler are determined, at first separately, to save the Asset.

Elisa seeks Giles’s help, describing how the Asset does not make her feel disabled, but in fact, makes her feel like more of a person, and that even though he is not human, if they do not help him, they are not human, either.

Giles is at first unconvinced and utterly repelled by the idea of saving the Asset, and instead goes to a local pie shop to continue trying to flirt with a male waiter (Morgan Kelly), whom we saw earlier when Giles went there with Elisa. But when Giles’s feelings are finally recognized by him, the waiter goes from being sweet and welcoming, to being appalled and mean. Giles leaves after seeing the waiter restrict an African-American couple from sitting at the empty bar, and returns to Elisa, finally agreeing to help her.

Elisa, Giles, Dr. Hoffstetler, and even Zelda team up to free the Asset, and Elisa’s relationship with him continues to evolve as the American versus Russian fight over the Asset turns bloody.

Director Guillermo Del Toro
Credit: Gage Skidmore

Throughout “The Shape of Water,” the viewer witnesses, not only examples of prejudice, cruelty, and inhumanity, but  also shocking displays of the perceived and actual fallacies of humans.

Although muteness, homosexuality, race, and all other characteristics that may be misunderstood or judged, are often viewed as a trait of someone who is unnatural and inferior, the truth is that it is the Colonel, the General, the doctor’s boss, and the waiter who represent the unnatural and negative forces that separates us from our humanity.

But perhaps the most jaw-dropping model of humanity in the movie is seen through the Asset and the loving and sexual relationship he has with Elisa. Del Toro is unreservedly declaring that the Asset is as human as any of the others, and perhaps even more so. He shows us that the strangest and most alien things may actually bring us closer to the core of what makes us human; because if we are made for anything, we are made for love.

Header credit: vimeo.com

About the Writer
Kyla Giffin, Editor-in-Chief
Kyla Giffin (grade 11) is a scholar-athlete in her second year of Journalism. Beginning as the Cowboy Life Editor her sophomore year, she worked her way up to Editor-in-Chief of the newly named The Torch. Kyla is also the Founder and President of a positive difference club on campus: the Movers and Shakers Society. She began...
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