Fox Searchlight’s “The Shape of Water” defies all logic. Not many filmmakers could make audiences swoon and weep at the love story between a mute janitor and a fish-man.
Also defying logic: The fact that those characters are related to Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and the Mother of Dragons.
Taylor was a writer and co-executive producer on the HBO series and says that “Thrones” may at first seem very different from the film. “But the things I love about ‘Game’ are the things I love about this movie. Both use genre elements to explore the idiosyncrasy of human emotions. And even though ‘Game’ is set in a time and place that are foreign, it’s very relatable. It’s the same with ‘Shape of Water.’ I think that’s why Guillermo hired me — though actually, I never asked him!”
Conventional wisdom says that Taylor would be the key to writing the film’s strong women characters and the romance. But conventional wisdom doesn’t apply with this film.
Taylor says when she first met with del Toro, “He already had a lot of the romance; he had been thinking about that part of the story for a long time. He knew what he wanted there.”
But the subplots were sketchier, such as the Russian storyline. “Those things are needed for the plot to make sense; they needed fleshing. But the romance was always close to his heart.”
“Shape” is set in 1962, during the Kennedy-Camelot years. Everything seems upbeat on the surface, but the film makes clear that the American dream wasn’t shared by gays, people with disabilities, and people of color.
In their first few meetings, Taylor said, “We talked about the idea of the film through the prism of these outsiders. The film is full of people who are disenfranchised. The love story is two people who are not speaking, but are actually communicating more than anybody else.”
The love story between Elisa (Sally Hawkins) and the aquatic creature who can’t speak (Doug Jones) demonstrates del Toro’s idea that “love renders you mute. I thought it was such a cool opportunity,” says Taylor. “My only question was: Is the audience going to buy the fact that she’s into this creature? Can Guillermo pull this off? But then I realized, he’s such a gifted visual storyteller, I’m gonna bet that he can,” she laughs.
Last week, the film, which is nominated for 13 Academy Awards, was hit by a lawsuit claiming plagiarism — very suspicious timing, since it was filed the very same week that final Oscar voting began. To anyone who reads the lawsuit, it’s a stretch to find similarities between “Shape of Water” and a 1969 play by the late Paul Zindel. The film is closer to “Splash,” “Free Willy” and “Beauty and the Beast,” but very different from all of them; Zindel’s play is closer to the novel and film “The Day of the Dolphin.”
Asked about the lawsuit, Taylor said, “I’m saddened by it. Guillermo is incredibly generous. This was truly a story from his heart and I think audiences are responding to the purity of his vision and the purity of his person. I’m heartbroken somebody would attack it. This is in stark contrast to the integrity of the whole project.”
In a statement, Searchlight called the lawsuit “baseless.”
Nearly every successful film is hit with a similar suit. For example, “E.T. the ExtraTerrestrial,” Steven Spielberg’s classic fantasy about human-otherworldly relationships, was the subject of a prolonged suit by a playwright. The court eventually ruled that there was “no substantial similarity” between the film and the earlier play.
Still, Taylor is looking on the bright side. She’s proud of the film and people’s reaction to it, saying, “This has been an incredibly exciting experience.”