Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) & The Amphibian Man (Doug Jones). Picture: Supplied

Film auteur Guillermo del Toro’s fantasy love story,'The Shape of Water', is hands down one of the most subtly inclusive fantasy films in years.

Rating: 5/5

Set in the 1960s, mute janitor Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) works at a top-secret US government facility with her colleague/friend Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer), and her life gains purpose after stumbling across an unknown being. 

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The beauty of this film is Del Toro’s gift of telling fantastical stories, but still giving them heart and crafting well-rounded characters throughout. His storytelling really shines when one looks at the way he incorporates subtleties that frame the story as a whole. 

A small example in this film is how Del Toro incorporates racial tensions during the 1960s without it hindering the story, flowing seamlessly with the rest of the film. 

This might seem like a small thing, but looking at it on a broader scale it’s actually quite commendable. Usually, when film-makers set a film in the 1940s, 50s or 60s they tend to ignore the racial issues of the times, and paint a picture that suggests black people’s struggles didn’t exist. 

Another thing is the fact that the protagonists are all minorities or characters who would not usually be seen as heroes.

Elisa is disabled, Zelda is a nonstereotypical black woman and Giles (Richard Jenkins) is an older gay man. The way Del Toro depicts the women in the film should be the norm for all films. The two main female characters are sexually liberated, more intelligent than their male counterparts and are three-dimensional people. 

The way he is also able to expertly showcase how men with their patriarchy, toxic masculinity, misogyny and how wrong power-hunger cisgender heterosexual white men were, also deserves two snaps. 

In true Del Toro fashion, 'The Shape of Water' is shot absolutely beautifully, with the director and the cinematographer telling a story in its own right with the imagery. From the design of the Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) you can clearly see Del Toro’s mind at work. 

The Amphibian Man also shares similarities to Abe Sapien from the Hellboy films, another aqua-based character. Interestingly, Doug Jones plays both characters. T

his is not uncommon since many directors love to work with the same actors on different projects. The chemistry between Elisa and the Amphibian Man is magnetic from the start, and is a true testimonial of the acting ability of both Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones.

 'The Shape of Water' is, in essence, a beautiful love story of two beings who are seen as weird and different, but find love because of their differences. 

Del Toro is able not only to tell a compelling love story, but to also intertwine gender inequality, racial tensions and overall power dynamics in a subtle way to craft something quite special.