The Shape of Water works on many levels. It is an adult fairy tale. It is a dark romance. It is a sumptuous visual feast, with excellent writing and performances. The frankness of the sexuality from the first few minutes tells us this is not a Disney story, and it does not shy away from scenes of bloody violence.
The setting is Cold War-era Baltimore. It takes visual cues from classic Hollywood – from horror like the Creature from the Black Lagoon to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals, along with echoes of the Bioshock video games.
But I wanted to highlight a certain theme in the movie, which is of interest to Pagans. Trying not to give too much away, the creature at the center of the plot was brought from the wilderness of South America. The man who brings the creature to Baltimore, a stern paragon of American Imperialist virtue, says the natives worship the creature like a god. So from the beginning we begin to wonder what powers are contained here. And we are not disappointed once we see them in action.
We see the modern reductive reaction to an encounter with something divine – to dissect and destroy in an attempt to understand the new power. But our heroes are open-hearted and open-minded enough instead to the experience of encountering a god and his power.
Guillermo del Toro has beautifully woven in pagan and supernatural elements in his previous movies. Pan’s Labyrinth famously gave us mandrakes prescribed for healing, and a visual feast of fauns and monsters. The Devil’s Backbone was another of his films that is possibly my favorite ghost story – both ominous and beautiful.
I highly recommend The Shape of Water for everyone, but especially for Pagan audiences, who I think will appreciate this magical story.