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That Sex Scene in The Shape of Water Was a Huge Risk

The Shape of Water celebrates otherness by depicting a love story between two very unlikely creatures. It asks the question: Doesn’t everyone deserve love?

The Shape of Water
Image: Fox Searchlight

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

Set in 1962, The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale about a mute woman, Elisa (Sally Hawkins), who works as a janitor at a secret government laboratory during the height of the space race. Both Soviets and Americans are willing to do anything to get to the moon first, including capturing and dissecting a mysterious reptile that oddly resembles a man.

This movie uses metaphor to explore characters who look or feel different or are shunned by society. That’s why Eliza and the Creature (Doug Jones) are mute, why Elisa’s neighbor and friend, Giles (Richard Jenkins), is gay and why her co-worker/confidant, Zelda (Octavia Spencer), is black. The story gives a voice to those who typically don’t have one, setting an example of inclusivity.

The story also allows a romance to spark between two, er, individuals who would traditionally be kept apart by society, government or religion.

Yes, this story is a modern-day Beauty and the Beast. But unlike the classic fairy tale, the Beast doesn’t transform into a handsome prince. Instead, he remains fishy.

Even in the sex scene.

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The Shape of Water
Image: Fox Searchlight

After rescuing the Creature from the lab, Elisa takes him home to her apartment, where he lives in her bathtub until she can make a plan for his safe return to the sea. Sharing so many similarities with the Creature and feeling empathy for his plight, she begins to fall in love with him, both romantically and sexually.

Vanessa Taylor, who cowrote the screenplay, told SheKnows about the tricky nature of the scene. For her, it had to be believable that a woman would fall for a creature with scales and vice versa.

“When I first talked to Guillermo [del Toro, the director] about the idea of a sex scene, I said, either we believe she wants to have sex with this fish-guy or we don’t. If we don’t believe it, we’ve got a huge problem. I didn’t have a way of knowing if it was going to work, but I thought, wow, if it doesn’t, we’re all in big trouble!”

The scene could easily turn comical or just gross. Interspecies hookups are always a huge risk. In The Little Mermaid, there’s a reason why Ariel gets to have legs for three days — and it has little to do with walking on land. But I digress.

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The Shape of Water
Image: Fox Searchlight

After Elisa turns on all the taps in the bathroom, water fills the entire space, allowing plenty of room for the Creature to get down to business and do his “fish-guy” duties. The scene is erotic and romantic. And strange. And delightful. And thought-provoking.

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According to Taylor, there is also something deeply primal happening.

“The fact that Elisa was so attracted to a creature that seemed so foreign — for reasons she was eventually able to explain, but initially it was just instinct — that’s very primal. The idea that you could get past the species barrier in a story that’s not presented as a straight-up fairy tale — that’s primal.”

We think primal love is a very good thing. With a current Rotten Tomatoes score of 98 percent for The Shape of Water, it seems at least the critics agree.

The Shape of Water opened on Friday.

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