Guillermo del Toro's new movie The Shape of Water takes a deep dive into a most unusual love story. Mashing up Creature from the Black Lagoon with a tender, star-crossed romance, it's a quintessential fairy tale in which mute cleaner Elisa (the Oscar nominated Sally Hawkins) falls in love with an amphibious humanoid (Doug Jones).
The movie is drenched in references to classic Hollywood cinema (Elisa lives above a movie theatre showing screen-filling Biblical epics), and this sense of nostalgia also extends to the award-winning soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. The composer's dreamy score picked up a BAFTA on Sunday and is in line for an Oscar (if so, it would be Desplat's second, following The Grand Budapest Hotel).
If you haven't yet seen the film, here are five musical cues that perfectly embody the movie's atmosphere.
1. The Shape of Water theme
Blending Argentinian tango accordion with 12 flutes and Desplat's own whistling (giving voice to the otherwise silent Elisa), the undulating main theme is designed to mirror the ebb and flow of water itself. It's the perfect accompaniment to the movie's stunning opening scene, in which we drift through Elisa's submerged apartment as narrator Giles (Richard Jenkins) sets us up: "If I were to tell you about her... What would I say?"
2. 'You'll Never Know'
Desplat adapts his central theme into a stunning showcase for soprano singer Renee Fleming, with whom he worked on 2012 animation Rise of the Guardians. Fleming's rich vocals perfectly mirror the achingly romantic relationship that unfolds between Elisa and Amphibian Man.
3. Elisa's Theme
Desplat extrapolates the musical textures from the opening cue and applies them to Hawkins' character. Although she's silent, she brims with a vibrant inner life, and the composer's perky, optimistic dialogue between flutes, accordion, strings and harp delightfully matches her persona.
4. Elisa and Zelda
Del Toro's film is stocked with memorable characters. One of the best is Elisa's work colleague and translator Zelda (played by the scene-stealing Octavia Spencer), and Desplat's music subtly invests their on-screen friendship with warmth and grace.
5. A Princess Without a Voice
In the album's liner notes, Desplat describes the movie as "a musical for which the music was yet to be written". As the score reaches its emotive and haunting close, there's no denying he has nailed the essence of the movie, one beset with equal amounts love, terror and tragedy. Put simply, his music is Elisa's voice.
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