I had the chance to attend Vulture Festival’s The Shape of Water panel a couple of weeks ago, which featured director Guillermo del Toro and actor Doug Jones. At the panel we learned things like where the inspiration of the film came from, how color was utilized thematically for the purpose of the film, and how the film relates to the world and its events today. Below I list the top 3 things we learned about The Shape of the Water:
1. The Shape of Water is the first film that Guillermo del Toro has allowed himself to exhale thematically. For many familiar with the work of del Toro, they will understand that his films are an acquired taste and mostly due to the type of thematic content that is covered by the director. However, The Shape of Water is different in the sense that it was the first movie that he could let go of the darkness that has come to occupy his mind and work:
“What is beautiful about The Shape of Water is that there are three movies in my life that have come to me at really really low points in my life where they’ve not saved my sanity, but my life. One is Devil’s Backbone. The second one was Pan’s Labyrinth. That came at a point when I was questioning so many things. What do we do? What do we leave behind? And this is the third time and it came at a moment of great darkness. It came from a genuine place. It is the first time [I exhaled]. My movies have been full of loss and nostalgia. They had a little of that tension and this time I let go. There’s an encompassing humanity and part of this is a love letter to love and a love letter to cinema.”
The focus on love and humanity is not as much of a departure from the director as most would expect, but the way it is handled throughout the course of the film, as critics will agree, is different.
2. Guillermo del Toro purposely made this a period film in order to encourage discussion about what is happening in the world today. It is hard to have a political discussion anywhere these days where people actually listen and drop their guard enough to be receptive to discussion. This makes it difficult for directors and producers to tackle subjects that do need to be addressed in the public eye. However, del Toro was able to get around that by taking us back to a time that the American people look back to fondly with nostalgia while also managing to display the hypocrisy of the time in a beautiful and impactful way. When asked why he set the movie in 1962, Guillermo del Toro responded:
“The movie is about today. It’s about everything that we are dealing with today like the toxic division of the ideology, us and them and all that. In 1962 occupies an important place in the American imagination. It was the time we got the closest to the American Fairytale. Kennedy is in the White House. There is post-World War II abundance, suburban wealth, cars in every garage, TV. Media starts changing in America. Movies are dying. TV is raising. And, yet, there is the Cold War. It’s a perfect setting for a love story. When you think of America being great, you get sent back to Madison Avenue before Kennedy got shot, before Vietnam escalates fully. And, yet, if you see that time, you see gender discrimination. You see violence. There was Vietnam. There were all of these things under the facade of the barbeque in the suburbs and it is today. Now, if I set the movie into today, what happens is what happens in conversations right now. We are beyond words right now. We are beyond truth. An argument can be made cynically about both sides really quickly and then the dialogue dies. But if I tell you, “Once upon a time in 1962 in a country not far away, there was a woman…”. Then it becomes a fairytale for troubled times and you lower your guard and you accept to discuss with me what makes us human.”
Sometimes in order to make the audience understand a point or be receptive to opinions, sometimes you have to take them to a time that makes them comfortable, that makes them dream and reflect on nostalgia. Guillermo del Toro does this efficiently in The Shape of Water.
3. Color used in the film are connected to the creature. Color is oftentimes used in cinema to convey thoughts and feelings to the audience in a more subtle, showing versus telling way. And, as is often the case in Guillermo del Toro’s films, color played a huge role in conveying certain ideas for the audience to pick up:
“All of the colors of the movie are in it. The sienna, the blue, the black; they are all contained within the creature and then you code the movie by that. The sienna and the blues are for [Elisa]’s apartment only and we created her apartment to feel like it was underwater like a fish tank. She shares the window with her neighbor. Half of the window is in her apartment and the other half is in her neighbor, and yet the neighbor’s apartment is all in gold and warm and every character that breathes air are all in golden and oranges and yellows. Completely sunlight and no water. And we coded the red in movies and in love. And then green is the future. The lab is green. The wardrobe. The pre-packaged gelatin is green. Everything that is modern is green.”
Because the River God is representative of the Earth and conveys a primordial spirit, it could be interpreted that, since all of the characters used in the film are derived from his color pallete, that all things connected to humanity link back up to him. Or I could just be reading way too much into this. Either way, the breakdown of the colors used in the film and how they connect to the characters and certain ideas like modernity make so much sense.
4. Guillermo del Toro drew inspiration for the technical components involved in the movie’s infamous bath scene from an incident in his childhood. One of the most discussed about scenes from the film is when Elisa and the River God overflow the bathtub in her apartment before consummating their love. For most viewers, there was a question as to whether or not the scene was realistic. Guillermo, however, knew that it was possible from a technical p.o.v. because he had accidentally overflowed his parents’ apartment as a child:
“People are saying that’s not possible, but I did it. Not with a whole room, but I did it with a huge shower at my parents’ [place]. We had no bathtub and I wanted to flow it, so I put my good towels on the bottom, towels on the side, and it’s filled up to here but the shower opened inside. And I’m alone in the house and I can’t open the door. It’s like Indiana Jones, but I finally pulled the door open and the water rushes out. It flowed the hallways, the corridors. My father was not happy when he came home.”
Despite Guillermo del Toro’s experience in accidentally flooding the bathroom, there were other technical issues that needed to be addressed like scuba training, practical versus CGI effects, etc.
5. Guillermo del Toro is taking a year-long sabbatical from directing. Although this news was announced about a month ago, this was news to many of us in the room when the moderator brought it up during questioning. When asked why he was taking time for a sabbatical, he responded as such:
“I’m going to take a break from last September to next September as a director because what has become evident to me at the age I am at is that we trade our life. The exchange rate is this. One movies takes three years of your life and the exchange rate takes its toll and I want to live. I want to live a little. I want to be able to enjoy this movie and the people it connects with. I want to travel with it. I want to see it play in different cinemas and different places. Truly, truly enjoy it, let it sit down, and let it inform what happens next, which could be a gigantic movie or a small movie. I have no idea, but it’s great not to have an idea because I feel like the 25 years I’ve been doing this has led to this moment.”
Despite taking a year off from directing, he does have plans to produce during this time, having mentioned several projects with Netflix as a start.
The Shape of Water premieres in theaters on December 1, 2017.