This fan theory for The Shape of Water makes perfect sense

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Moya Lothian-McLean
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Spoilers ahead. Lots of them.

Yes, we know that Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, is a fantasy. But like most things exposed to the relentless scrutiny of the internet, that hasn’t stopped people questioning the realism of director Guillermo del Toro’s quiet romance, which is built on the premise of a woman falling in love with a magical aquatic creature. 

Luckily Reddit has once again risen to the challenge of providing sincere explanations for plotlines in preternatural films. And for The Shape of Water, the community has produced a theory that is so legitimate, we may as well call it canon now. 

Redditor ‘caerul’ posited the question of whether Sally Hawkins’ character, Elisa Esposito  – the mute cleaner whose relationship with a mysterious water-creature known only as ‘the Asset’, forms the central focus of the film  – was more than she seemed from the very beginning.

“I got the impression that she was half fish-[wo]man herself,” caerul wrote in a thread dedicated to discussing the much-lauded film. “Clues were left[:] she was found in a river, she’s never been able to speak, she masturbates underwater every morning, and most importantly [the Asset] healed her ‘scars’ [Elisa has three even scars on each side of her neck] into working gills. He was never shown to have transformative powers, only healing powers, implying that she had partially-formed gills from being, perhaps, a half-breed. This explained, at least to me, what otherwise would have felt like a hasty and forced connection between the two.”

The speculation makes perfect sense and immediately fellow Redditors began adding other pieces of evidence to support the original deduction. 

“Yep,” wrote one user. “She was found as a child by the water. Her name is Esposito. The creature was found in Brazil. All adds up.”

“There’s also the scene when she’s on the bus showing she has a power or connection with water where she runs her finger along the window making the water droplets go in circles,” observed another.

Then there were the associations so obvious we’re angry we didn’t spot them ourselves. 

“She was Ariel,” commented a Redditor going under the moniker ‘Mooseisabitfat’. “Ariel makes a deal with Ursula to go on land. She washes up on shore with her tail replaced with legs. She has to fall in love with the prince, but the catch is that she’s lost her voice in the transformation. This was basically [del] Toro melding The Little Mermaid with The Creature From the Black Lagoon.”

Whilst it doesn’t seem Elisa was specifically intended as an incarnation of Ariel herself, there’s no denying del Toro seems inspired by the story of the mermaid who becomes mute in order to experience humanity. In fact, the Mexican filmmaker has acknowledged the fairytales that planted the seeds for seeds for the award-winning work, and the Hans Christian Anderson classic was one of his cited influences. 

“It was loosely inspired by a favorite fairy tale collected by the Grimm brothers—about a flounder that grants wishes for a fisherman and his wife—with a touch of Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid,” said del Toro of The Shape of Water, in a 2017 Deadline interview.

The film might have benefited from other, unacknowledged, influences too. Since its release, del Toro has been bombarded by accusations of plagiarism, with one claim resulting in a lawsuit. A 1969 play, Let Me Hear You Whisper, tells the story of a cleaning lady who becomes enamoured of a dolphin in a research laboratory that’s scheduled to be killed. Representatives of Paul Zindel’s estate, the deceased Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the tale, assert del Toro may have mined aspects of the concept for his own film. And unlike The Little Mermaid, it doesn’t belong to the public domain – which means a trip to the courts to hash it out. 

Either way, The Shape of Water is an undeniably beautiful work. And as for the theory that Elisa is a long-lost mer-princess? We’re convinced. 

Images: Rex Features