The experience of watching Guillermo del Toro’s new film The Shape of Water is like that of buying and eating an elaborately manufactured and fussily packaged epicurean dessert, the kind that upmarket department stores promote in their northern-suburbs branches over Christmas. The lavish presentation may resemble that of haute cuisine, but the formula conforms to industry staples and packs heady dosages of sugar and fat, for immediate gratification and easy consumption.
That comparison is somewhat unfair: Del Toro’s film involved many conscientious craftsmen and many hours of labour, and even the most pedestrian of Hollywood studio productions deal in narrative and concepts, human emotions and ideas — the stuff of which Woolworths doesn’t generally construct its weekly food catalogues. And del Toro knows how to mix in ideas with his sweetener; the only other of his films that I’ve seen is Pan’s Labyrinth (and about half an hour of Hellboy II: The Golden Army), which ran its narrative course through a prismatic view of fascism as well as the full gamut of psychoanalytical insights on childhood fantasies.
Though Pan’s Labyrinth is the film that took a stark view of particular brutalities during the Spanish Civil War and The Shape of Water is the one that centres on a fairytale romance between a dewy-eyed innocent and a colourful water creature, it’s the former which played as an ingenuous Freudian expedition through the preoccupations of childhood, while The Shape of Water has the feel of a more tempered and more adult look at things.