The Shape of Water

I have to say I was disappointed with this film. So many Oscar nominations but I can’t quite see why. I love Universal’s classic Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the setting, period, and subject matter of The Shape of Water made it seem like it would be something I would love. But somehow I didn’t. 

Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer are both great as is Richard Jenkins as Giles. Michael Shannon and Doug Jones are now hopelessly typecast as evil twisted bad guy and amphibious gill man respectively. I guess many see this as a touching love story where the lovers see beyond outward appearance and ‘disability’ to the soul beneath. That’s a worthy message but did they have to have interspecies sex? I’m fairly broad minded but that went a bit far for my comfort. I love monsters too but not that much! But it was the cloying sentimentally that offended me more. The film lost me around the time Elisa and the Creature broke  into a classic Hollywood musical song and dance routine. As  far as del Toro’s work goes, it’s better than Pacific Rim but not nearly as good as Pan’s Labyrinth. I even liked Hellboy more. 

Giving the monster godlike healing powers and having the toxically religious Strickland admit to the creature, ‘You are a god!’ underscored for me the emptiness at the heart of the film. In a world of ‘gods and monsters’ the difference between the two is all too easily obscured. The metaphysical difference (and distance) between God, gods, and creatures, seems lost on del Toro. We are all monsters, we are all creatures, and artists are small ‘g’ gods with the power to create artificial worlds. But none of us is God and therein lies the rub. In a world without God the gods are all too easily monsters.


Associate Professor Glen O'Brien is Research Coordinator and a Lecturer in Christian History and Wesleyan Studies at Eva Burrows College within the University of Divinity. He is also a member of the University of Divinity's Centre for Research on Religion and Social Policy.

This review was first published at: https://letterboxd.com/gobrien/film/the-shape-of-water/