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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The Shape of Water is a 1960s-set fantasy/romance about a woman who falls in love with an otherworldly creature and tries to rescue him. It's from beloved director Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth), and it easily ranks among his best films, but it's only recommended for older teens and up due to its mature content. Expect to see lots of blood, some jump scares, fighting and hitting, guns and shooting, and other gory/horrific moments (for example, a man rips off his own rotting fingers, and the creature bites a cat's head off). There's also full-frontal female nudity and some strong sexual situations: a married couple has sex (viewers see a naked male bottom thrusting), a woman masturbates in a bathtub, and the woman and the creature share a kind of supernatural sex scene. Language is also strong, with uses of "f--k," "motherf----r," "s--t," "p---y," and more. Some characters smoke, and one pops pain pills.
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What's the story?
In THE SHAPE OF WATER, mute Elisa (Sally Hawkins) works nights as a cleaning lady for an aerospace research center in the early 1960s. She and her talkative best friend, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), start cleaning one of the rooms and discover some kind of non-human being (Doug Jones) in a tank full of water. Finding herself drawn to him, Elisa keeps visiting, bringing him hard-boiled eggs and playing music. But since the cruel, vicious Colonel Strickland (Michael Shannon) violently treats the creature as an enemy, Elisa decides to break him out. She enlists the aid of her loyal next-door neighbor, commercial artist Giles (Richard Jenkins), and is unexpectedly helped by scientist Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg), who doesn't want to see the creature killed and dissected. With the creature living in her bathtub, Elisa realizes that she must free him. But does she have enough time? And what's the secret of their mysterious connection?
Is it any good?
Fantastic director Guillermo Del Toro clearly put everything he had into this wonderful monster movie/romance, from a beautiful, labyrinthian visual scheme to a powerful story of love and empathy. Certainly The Shape of Water comes from a strange idea, but it's so lovely and so open-hearted that it never steps wrong. Given that it's structured, like Del Toro's own Pan's Labyrinth, as a kind of fairy tale, viewers may notice that it's easy to see where the story is going, but The Shape of Water is less about the payoff, or even the mystery, than it is about simply connecting.
It's interesting that Del Toro spends time focusing on other connections in the story, from husband-and-wife relationships to a spurned crush. And even the friendship between Elisa and Zelda -- one never speaking, the other always speaking -- is amusingly off-kilter. The movie seems to be saying that as long as something feels real, then it is real. The characters are supported by the brilliant set designs, which frame characters in unique and specific ways. There's also a striking use of the color green, as well as thematic uses of water (for cooking, bathing, as a force for destruction, etc.). All in all, The Shape of Water is one of Del Toro's absolute best movies.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about The Shape of Water's violence. How much is shown? Does it feel surprising or out of place in a movie that could otherwise seem like a gentle fairy tale? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
What's the difference between the characters' motivations and their methods? What bad or violent things happen while they try to do good things? Are they admirable just the same? How does the movie demonstrate the importance of compassion?
How are sex and nudity depicted? Parents, talk to your teens about your own values regarding sex and relationships.
How does the movie generate sympathy for a monster over sympathy for certain humans? How does this idea relate to real life?
Do you consider the movie to be a fairy tale? Why or why not?
- In theaters: December 1, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: March 13, 2018
- Cast: Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Michael Shannon, Doug Jones
- Director: Guillermo Del Toro
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character strengths: Compassion
- Run time: 119 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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