The Shape of Water ★★★★

Guillermo knows what the world needs right now: it needs to regain its hope in love, tenderness, and kindness. And humanity needs to see that it is a singular large, strange family, one with many different colors, personalities, dreams, and desires, difficulties, individual sorrows, worries, impossibly deep cares, and all of them real, all of them valid, all of them beautiful, unique, and more precious than diamonds. They are what we are. Humanity is all of these, and more, and del Toro's film wants us to know it, deep in our bones, remember it like the fondest memory of an indigo evening.

A lot of people are talking about how wonderful Sally Hawkins is in this, and I'm not disputing that at all, but I was particularly struck by Michael Shannon's piercing personification of toxic masculinity in Strickland, a tempestuous, unrepentant rage boiling beneath immaculately constructed fantasy; his teal Cadillac, his perfectly pressed suit, the same candy he's loved since he was a child, his insistence that he can control any situation. Try as he might to insist his fingers reattach themselves, or certain as he is that he can have whatever he wants if he simply wills it, he is at odds with reality--a reality that despite all the blundering agony men cause, breaks free, breathes independently, and defies them. Toxic patriarchy has been the disease of humankind, and like nature, we must break free from it. It is not the way; it is our undoing.

Doug Jones' Creature is a wonder, but I would expect no less from the creative people Guillermo del Toro surrounds himself with, nor less from Jones, who is one of the most moving physical actors of our time. The cast in general is almost impossibly perfect, with artists I've quietly admired for years in Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg and Octavia Spencer. I was so glad about all the moments in this that allude to the utter boundlessness of love in all its forms, and the humanization of not only the Creature, but Elisa herself, a real woman who feels desire, masturbates, and fantasizes like any functioning person; her vocal handicap doesn't lessen her humanity, rather, it expounds on it, brings nuance and richness, brings emotion in ways those of us who are considered able-bodied may not have even really considered in any real way. Humanity is not the status quo; there is no humanity that does not include us all.

There are a few plot points that tie up a little too conveniently, but I felt I understood the essence of del Toro's conceptual goals here. We must embrace what moves us beyond the banality of existing; we must love ourselves and our fellow beings, selflessly, utterly, without form, without shape, but entirely. Love will save us. Love will make us whole. It will make us infinite.