RATING: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
ONE SENTENCE SYNOPSIS: In the 1960s, a janitor at a high-security government lab discovers the lab’s latest treasure, a fish-like-man, only to develop a deep bond with him, so she goes to great lengths to take him from the harmful lab environment back to the ocean.
What can I say? This is a beautiful film. A bleakly dim film, but a beautiful one.
It is always interesting to review a director’s films to see what or if there are any themes that span more than one film. Del Toro certainly likes to focus on those characters that are considered to be lesser, whether because of their age, race, gender, deformity, illness, etc. This film is no different. This is a film that, while inundated with worldly images and people, is shown through innocent eyes, or eyes that choose to see the best in people.
Characters walk the line between being stereotypes and well-rounded beings, very similar to those in Pan’s Labyrinth. Sally Hawkins play a mute woman who is loved by those who know her and overlooked by those who don’t. One of her closest friends and next door neighbor is a gay man (played by Richard Jenkins) fired from his job–it’s implied that his coworker found out he was gay and “let him go.” Her other friend (Octavia Spencer) is a sprightly woman, burdened by her lazy husband. Factor in Amphibian Man (Doug Jones) and what we have are the people subjugated by advantaged people, who, in this case, are represented by a particularly evil Michael Shannon.
It’s hard not to view this film without having the premonition that these four main characters are going to knocked down over and over again.
The romance between Hawkins’ character and the creature is handled delicately and not because it is a relationship with a human and a sort of animal-human hybrid. Hawkins’ character has been deeply hurt by those she is closest to, as shown by the scars on her neck where her vocal cords were torn, and this is shown with the great vulnerability she exhibits towards the similarly torchered creature. These two hurt individuals are the cure to each others hurt.
Stylistically, this is a rich film. The cinematography by Dan Laustsen is beautiful. The production design by Paul D. Austerberry is great as well. All of the pieces of this film work together superbly to create this dark, romantic piece. There is even a scene that realizes Hawkins’ character’s dream to be like one of those movie stars; it manifests itself in a black and white musical scene. In any other film, this sequence may just seem fanciful and indulgent, but here it pulls at our emotions as we realize that the mute woman is able to use her vocal cords and not just for speaking but for singing. There is something magical in that.