Being not quite sure if The Shape of Water, which is leading in 90th Academy Awards with 13 nominations, will be withdrawn from the competition due to strong plagiarism allegations; apparently a disastrous Oscar drama in itself… Mexican film director Guillermo del Toro’s work show systemic similarities to Pulitzer-winning Paul Zindel’s play “Let Me Hear You Whisper” (1969). It is utmost ironic that one of those nominations is Best ORIGINAL Screenplay for its co-authorship with del Toro and Vanessa Taylor.
The story is set back to 1960s Cold War era. A mute cleaning lady, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), working in a highly secured US government lab finds out a secret ‘thing’ (Doug Jones) that is kept in a water tank in there. She is attracted to this Amazon river origined ‘asset’, and tries to rescue him from this research facility where he is being exposed to harmful experiments which paves the way to death. It seems to emanate from a glorious goal of establishing superiority over Russia, and do not take care of the experimental ‘object’ whether it is a living thing or not.
While Elisa is trying to save the thing, she is surrounded by the bad and the good, surely to balance the tension of the plot. The bad is that ambitious and unethical agent Robert Strickland (Michael Shannon) who is the one that trapped the creature in its homeland and brought him all the way to the lab. The major good ones are her neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), her friend Zelda (Octavia Spencer), and Dr. Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who has some complicated relations with Russians to enhance the battle if not yet.
Floating camera, color palette, warm light, diffusion filters, dry-for-wet techniques, fish-eye lenses and all the vehicles such as dollies support shooting the 1960s in a fictious way (Dan Laustsen). Since del Toro’s style is making it shot-by-shot, it might have helped Sidney Wolinsky’s job for the editing.
It would have been better if the volume of the music and photography were more aligned. Furthermore, it is too much Yann Tiersen rhythms heard around although the music was by the French Alexandre Desplat. There, for sure, is a La La Land effect too, especially towards the end.
Such screenplays drawn with thick lines including the events and characters are mostly challenging to move the feelings. The more it becomes thicker and predictable, the less excitement it creates. However, there are still several scenes that make it going: e.g., upon thing’s rescue plan and argument that it is not a human, Elisa’s response in sign language ‘if we do nothing, neither are we’; or ‘positive thinking’ book read by Strickland; or Spencer’s fascinating acting overall.
“If I spoke about it, if I did, what would I tell you? I wonder..”
I wonder if I could tell you that it was a tale of love and loss and a monster (monster as not the ‘asset’, but the bad Strickland) who tried to destroy all.
Or I wonder if the plagiarism accusations are too big to swallow indeed.
Zindel’s play is about a cleaning lady working in a lab, communicating to a dolphin, and trying to rescue it. To summary, The Shape of Water is about a cleaning lady working in a lab, communicating to an aquatic creature and trying to save him. At least, the idea is purely not original.
I also wonder how the nominees are selected for US-based Academy Awards since Zindel holds a Pulitzer prize and his Let me Hear You Whisper play is dated back only to 1969. Unfortunately, this nomination can be interpreted as a pity for the intellectual members of the Academy.
Certainly, it is not nice to behave oddly to orphans, disabled people, colored people, in other words to be a monster; and it is also not nice to be remembered with the Best Plagiarized Screenplay news.
If one wonders this Fox Searchlight Pictures (as one of the production companies) movie, and only has nothing else to do better…