UHCL The Signal
The official student newspaper of the University of Houston-Clear Lake

REVIEW: ‘The Shape of Water’ transcends language


Tickets sold out as UHCL students and staff filled the SSCB Lecture Hall Saturday, March 3, to watch “The Shape of Water” and participate in a commentary and discussion of the film moderated by guest speaker Stephen Cherry, associate professor of sociology.

“The Shape of Water” is a film directed by Guillermo del Toro that is set in the 1960s during the Cold War. It is a love story about a mute custodial woman who works at a government laboratory and falls in love with a humanoid-amphibian that was captured and is being held in captivity.

The film is a magically emotional story of vulnerable outsiders. It stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, Octavia Spencer as Zelda Fuller, Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland and Doug Jones as the Amphibian Man. The beautifully told story won four Oscars at this year’s Academy Awards including Best Picture, Best Original Music Score, Best Production Design and Best Director.

Throughout the film, there are many hidden messages embedded that represent issues from the past as well as present day, and it capitalizes on the message of love. The film sheds light on man’s inhumanity toward outsiders in society and shows just how powerful a special bond of friendship can be.

After the screening, Cherry held a discussion about the movie, giving the audience a bit more insight into the messages that were placed throughout the film.

At the beginning of the commentary, Cherry discussed what he felt the director of the film, del Toro, was interested in conveying through the film.

"The Shape of Water" by Guillermo de Toro. Movie poster courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.
“The Shape of Water” by Guillermo de Toro. Movie poster courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“He made this film with a specific reason in mind,” Cherry said. “He said that we live in a time where people don’t listen. He said no one will earnestly look at facts, and no one will sit down and address major issues that we have. There’s no way anyone wants to have a real conversation about these kinds of things, so let me make a film.”

Cherry discussed the symbols in the film and expressed that del Toro must have hoped people would view the film and be moved by the issues presented, so it would create a dialogue where dialogue is needed.

Cherry explained that he felt there were two major themes that del Toro was trying to convey in this film. The first was the love story, and the second was a commentary on how the time in which we currently live is similar to that of the Cold War.

For the love story in the film, Cherry said del Toro focused on highlighting a specific kind of love. The kind of love that Cherry described is “transcendental love,” which is a type of love that is stronger than most and goes beyond the usual range of love.

“It’s about loving difference for difference,” Cherry said.

Cherry concluded the commentary discussing how del Toro highlights what makes the characters different from one another. Whether it be that they were a mute, LGBT, African-American or a humanoid-amphibian, each of the characters has qualities that make them different. Each of them loves one another for that exact reason.

del Toro’s film also serves as a commentary on the 1960s during the Red Scare and the way things worked in America during that time period because he wanted to make an analogy between then and now. The 1960s was a time where America was made for the white male. del Toro uses the character Strickland, who is the villain in the story, as a representation of the time period where white male dominance was abundant.

In today’s America, there is an ongoing conversation about women’s equality, disability, sexual orientation and racial equality. This film directly displays the issues dealt with in the 1960s and serves as a reference to the fact that these prejudices are still current in America.

“The Shape of Water” brings light and discussion to parts of life that should be talked about, from acceptance and love to issues in the past and present. Overall, it is a wonderful movie that puts unique a twist on the “Beauty and the Beast” love story.

If you missed the film and speaker event, you can still find “The Shape of Water” playing in local theaters.