I’m going to be totally upfront about this: I’m a Christian who loves Jesus, I believe that Christ Jesus died for our sins, I believe that we as sinners cannot earn our way into heaven but can only meet that goal through faith in the grace of Christ alone (John 3:16). Yet I still loved The Shape of Water, a film that Christians (including the awesome Brian Godawa) have written thoughtful commentaries criticizing how it attacks spiritual groups to promote free-will… and bestiality. And I totally get all that, from the intent of the artist, those messages are legitimate: the only Christian character is the villain, and the overall message says you should live only for yourself as you worship an earthly being who is constantly named a god. Heck, if you look back at my review of this film, you’ll see that I gave a 1/10 to its morality score (or how many of the Ten Commandments it obeys).
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
One detail that I found quite direct to scripture was Elisa’s backstory, which essentially was left at her being found in the river. In Exodus 2:5-10, it tells of how Moses was found by Pharaoh’s family in the reeds of the river, and when confronted by God in his old age, he said he will not return to Egypt because of his speaking disability. That there suggests Elisa as that type of Moses figure, who is there to lead the amphibian man out of torture and into the ocean, just like Moses leading Israel out of slavery in Egypt, across the Red Sea, and into the promised land. She’s the last person you’d expect to perform such a feat, much like Moses too was the last one expected to do such a thing, which is how God works as he performs his acts throughout the Bible.
After he is rescued and hides in Elisa’s apartment, the amphibian man starts performing miracles: he regrows Giles’ hair and heals his arm wound, then later resurrects himself after getting shot. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is seen making the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and the mute speak. Plus, Jesus washed the disciples’ feet and walked on water, likewise, the creature as a being of the water washes away the hurt and brokenness of all he touches (Matthew 14:25-33, John 13). Although if you saw this movie already, you may recall that the most memorable miracle he performs is turning Elisa’s neck scars into gills. When taking it from the parallel of the gospel, it fits right in: God gives us new bodies that heals our ailments, both physical and spiritual (2 Corinthians 5:4-5). Although you may be way more concerned about the sexual relationship Elisa shares with this creature. It’s certainly strange and rightfully breaks the Lord’s command against sex outside of marriage, but know also that it can be symbolic of what it’s like to come to Christ. When one makes the prayer and submits him/herself to God, the Holy Spirit binds with the new follower, in the same way sexual union binds two halves into one. Then of course, the entire theme of water with this creature represents baptism, or the entrance into salvation away from the sinful world (Exodus 14, Matthew 3:13-17).
Then there’s the clear ugliness of the creature. The actor playing the amphibian man, Doug Jones, has said in an interview that the intent of the design was to make this creature handsome “in a fish-like way.” But in the film, he is called ugly by Richard Strickland, as it’s “not what the Lord looks like.” Many Christians for centuries have been stuck in the presumption that Jesus looked like a gorgeous White man with flowing brown hair and crystal blue eyes. But the prophet Isaiah rather said that the coming messiah will be ugly, unlike what we today think of Jesus (Isaiah 53:2-3).
Playing off that theme of desired beauty in highest power, Elisa does not fit society’s standards of beautiful, as she is always lit by murky shades of green, turquoise, and teal that emphasize her pale wrinkles. But from the way she is framed and lit, she really does look beautiful in her own way. Her hair and wardrobe complement her unique body shape and she’s never afraid to show her sincere giddy smile. That there is true beauty. This type of shameless confidence is intimately exposed to us when we first meet her get into the bathtub to masturbate. We can see that she has a nice hourglass figure that she seems to take good care of with a strict diet of hardboiled eggs. Compare that to the only other person who appears nude, when Strickland is lured into having sex with his wife; she flashes her breast which looks large and well-rounded, but it’s attached to a woman who otherwise looks more like a blown-up sex doll than a human being. As the warm-tinted lighting tries to contrast against Elisa, it ultimately suggests that true beauty is not in outward appearance, but in the spirit, which the materialistic obsession the nuclear family possessed in the early 1960s wants to cover up.
Unlike Strickland’s predicament that left him greatly unhappy, the kingdom of Heaven is not the warm, perfectly neat home accompanied by his goody-two-shoes children and Barbie doll of a trophy wife. The wound on his hand caused by the sea creature is evidence of this as he attempts to get sex out of his dumb materialistic spouse while keeping her mouth shut as if she should be Ariel in The Little Mermaid (Matthew 6:19-20).
Back at his work with the government facility, they want to keep the creature in what is essentially a prison, and the communists want to kill it, both motives of the scribes and Pharisees wanting to take Jesus off the streets claiming to be the messiah. First, the Chief Priests wanted to capture and imprison him, then it grew into a sentence to crucifixion that starts with torture like when the amphibian man was electrocuted. The governmental leaders, who deny the creature as the Lord himself, much like the Chief Priests, want him arrested, but the communists, much like what Pontius Pilate ends up deciding out of pressure by the people, want to kill the creature. This is further evidenced by how the main communist character treats his entire order to poison the creature, he doesn’t want to, mainly because of how he acknowledges its miracle biology, but is too pressured by his position of power to do the right thing. The same happened to Pilate at Jesus’ trial (Matthew 26:14-16, John 19:4-16).
Now of course, this movie still has its issues even when it comes to its inspiration off the gospel. One of the bigger issues is that it confuses animals into thinking they are made in the Lord’s image after all. In truth, they never got the breath of life that God breathed into Adam’s nostrils, so they were never specially made with the Lord’s character (Genesis 2:7). This movie suggests that man and nature are equals, going back to the theory of evolution that contradicts the Lord’s record.
Then there is the normalization of bestiality, which the Lord absolutely forbids. He only encourages sex between married couples… you can’t marry an animal, can you? They’re not built with the same romantic instincts as we humans are, nor does it enhance the lineage of either species in a positive way (1 Corinthians 7:1-3, Hebrews 13:4).
All in all, The Shape of Water is wrongly saying that you should only live for yourself and break free from societal oppression to live with the animals. God warns us to do the exact opposite. While he most certainly wants us to know that this Earth is not our goal, that does not mean we flee from society to do whatever we want on our own terms. In fact, King Nebuchadnezzar went through this exact trial during his reign over Babylon, when he eventually fell out of power, went mad, and spent years living like the animals in the wilderness (Daniel 4:28-37).
But there’s still tremendous truth in what The Shape of Water says based on the societal context it’s placed in. This world is not our home, but the Kingdom of Heaven that we can join our creator, redeemer, father, and friend in, an eternally satisfying union with the maker that can only be done if you ignore societal pressures to submit to him.
It's kind of funny, isn’t it? Guillermo Del Toro intended to make a movie with strong Pagan overtones that worships the environment, yet he (possibly unintentionally) ended up including a strong message to how much more rewarding it is to live for Christ! I can tell you as one who grew up in a Christian home and accepted the Lord when I was seven that living for Him is so, so worth it! The older I get, the more reasons I can come up with as to why this is what I’m expected to do out of life, to live in harmony with my creator and redeemer, who will free me from my sins so that I may live with him in the Kingdom of Heaven forever and ever.
That’s what I love so much about what I do in analyzing movies: when it’s well made, there’s so much you can take out of it! That’s one thing my mom mentioned when I spoke with her about this, that what makes something art is when there’s multiple ways anyone can interpret it, and it encourages discussion about deeper ideas that truly matter. It’s not like shallow, cheaply produced “Christian propaganda” films, overly sappy, forcibly family-friendly movies that insult your intelligence by saying atheists are scum. I’m one who encourages movies that challenge you to think, that trigger healthy discussion.
Thus, if you are a Christian, I encourage you to watch artistic movies like The Shape of Water. If the content bothers you, that’s fine, but if you can handle it, then speak up with someone else about how it spoke to you personally. It turns out, from what I learned, that there’s many valuable things that even Christians can pick up from secular films such as this one, to better understand the world and find ways to witness to nonbelievers. I just as much encourage these types of movies to non-Christians as well, as we all can learn so much more about ourselves, the world we live in, and what else is out there.
That is why I, as a firm believer of Jesus Christ, could not be happier that The Shape of Water won Best Picture.
Thank you so much for your time in reading! Please feel free to e-mail me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com or message me through social media if you have any further questions. I’m also planning on doing these types of posts a monthly thing, so if there’s another movie you want me to talk in-depth about from a Christian perspective, please let me know!
Have a great week, and happy watching, God bless!