Spoiler alert: FYI, we will be discussing a key aspect of Guillermo del Toro's sexy sea monster film, Shape of Water.
Listen, I'm going to cut right to the chase. I'm a big fan of Guillermo del Toro. Going in to Shape of Water, I was excited. It appeared to be an incredibly rich and beautiful story. The visuals in the trailers alone were enough to convince me that the film would be utterly enchanting. Long story short, I did love it. I'd argue it's del Toro's best film since Pan's Labyrinth. But even though I fell in love with this whimsical and timeless tale, even though I think it's a strong Oscar contender and one of my favorite films of the year, I left with one lingering question: did Eliza and the sea creature need to have sex?
If you're questioning the question, let me assure you that they do, indeed, have sex. Eliza even describes the anatomy of the fish man, who seems to have some kind of trap door down there that opens up to reveal his, um, fish-man-italia. In a later scene, the two successfully fill Eliza's bathroom with water, naked, and seem to have another glorious scene of love-making. All the while I wondered, did they need to consummate this relationship in this way? Could they have forgone the sex and still maintained the power of the narrative?
Ahead of the film's release, I hopped on the phone with Doug Jones, the human man who is inside the fish suit in the film. Jones has a long history of starring in Guillermo del Toro's films — he plays the Fauno in Pan's Labyrinth, Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, and more — and he has an even longer history of this kind of creature work in the broader spectrum of the film industry. When I asked Jones about the sex and why it was necessary, he actually gave a pretty incredible answer.
In those classic monster movies that Guillermo was inspired by as a child, even Creature From the Black Lagoon being a big one . . . all those monsters, the creature from the Black Lagoon, Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, King Kong, the list goes on. There's also a human being involved with that monster who finds empathy, sympathy with him. A romantic notion might be in the air over that sympathy, right?
So, Guillermo [del Toro], once he saw The Creature From the Black Lagoon, he developed a crush on both Julie Adams and the creature at the same time. And he really wanted that romance to be actualized and completed. He said that as a child, he even doodled them after he saw the movie: Julie Adams and the creature holding hands at the beach, on a bicycle together, having a picnic together. He drew multiple pictures of them in hopes that they might have gotten together one day. Well, this is the movie that he made now. He wanted to make the movie where the monster does not have to transform into a handsome prince in order to be loved.
All of us at some point in our lives have felt like we're the out-of-sorts one. We're the one who doesn't fit in. We're the one who's different from everybody else and we're not lovable somehow. I think everybody has that running fear [laughter], and I certainly can tap into that.
To be in a story where I don't have to change, I just have to be accepted, and where someone finds me beautiful. She sees the beauty in my monster-ness. And I see the similarity in her, too. We see something in each other that others find invisible, or expendable, or even distasteful. But with each other, we find the beauty in it all. And so gosh, who wouldn't want to tell that story?
So, there you have it. While it's heartening to see Eliza's bond with this creature, that sort of sympathy and camaraderie is a pretty common staple of classic "monster" movies. But to see a love story, to see a film where the creature really gets the girl . . . that's something we never see. So, yes, I was a bit incredulous about the sex in Shape of Water. But when you look at it in this broader context, it makes a lot of sense.