This post includes a plot description and an explanation about the ending of the 2017 film “The Shape of Water”.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro, the 2017 fantasy film stars Sally Hawkins as Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer as Zelda and Richard Jenkins as Giles.
“The Shape of Water” tells the story of a mute woman (Elisa Esposito) who befriends a mysterious creature (Amphibian Man). The latter was captured by a ruthless colonel (Richard Strickland), who is holding him in a top secret research facility, in which Elisa works as a cleaner.
What Happens in “The Shape of Water”? (Plot Explained)
Over time, Elisa and the Amphibian Man develop a close bond. They communicate mainly through sign language. However, their new-found friendship might have its days over, as Colonel Strickland plans to kill the Amphibian Man and dissect him.
Together with two of her best friends (Giles and Zelda), Elisa strategises a rescue plan to save the Amphibian Man. She wants to get the creature out of the research facility and release him back into the ocean when the tide is high.
Elisa succeeds and takes the Amphibian Man to her house. Meanwhile, Colonel Strickland gathers clues about the creature’s whereabouts. He goes to Zelda’s house to threaten her. Ultimately, Zelda’s husband is the one who gives their location away.
Zelda manages to warn Elisa about Colonel Strickland. Elisa, Giles and the Amphibian Man manage to arrive at a nearby canal, but shortly after, Strickland intercepts them. He attacks Giles and shoots Elisa and the Amphibian Man down. However, the creature rises up and heals himself.
Meanwhile, Strickland watches everything in disbelief. The Amphibian Man walks towards the Colonel and slashes his throat. A severely injured Strickland bleeds to death. Before the police arrive with Zelda, the Amphibian Man takes Elisa with him and jumps into the water.
The Ending of “The Shape of Water” Explained
The ending of “The Shape of Water” shows the Amphibian Man reviving Elisa by giving her gills so she can breathe underwater. In the epilogue, Giles shares his own thoughts about what happened afterwards: Elisa and the creature remained in love and lived happily ever after.
This is what the film provides to its audience. However, what really happened at the end of “The Shape of Water”? Although the audience sees the Amphibian Man taking Elisa and reviving her, was it real? Or did Giles invent this whole narrative to give closure to a much more tragic ending?
There are a couple of theories circulating around the ending of “The Shape of Water”. Before we get into Giles’ epilogue, let’s talk about Elisa’s scars.
Was Elisa A Mermaid?
There is a theory circulating that Elisa was a sea creature herself and that her neck scars were actually gills. According to this theory, the Amphibian Man didn’t give her gills, he activated them.
Let’s entertain that thought for a moment. That would explain her attraction to the Amphibian Man, wouldn’t it? If Elisa was a mermaid or some other type of water creature, then it makes total sense that she would empathize with the Amphibian man because she comes from water too.
There are a couple of moments in the film that support this theory. For instance, how was Elisa found? By the river, abandoned, and with wounds on her neck. If this theory proves to be true, then Elisa is not mute because someone damaged her vocal cords. The woman cannot utter a word because she is out of her element: water.
Now, let’s talk about that ending. So, there are mainly two theories about how “The Shape of Water” really ended.
Ending Theory no.1 – The Amphibian Man and Elisa are dead
This theory is a bit morbid. Some believe that Elisa and the creature are dead. Strickland shot them and they never woke up again. In this scenario, Giles is just trying to pick up the pieces that are left and create a happy ending for Elisa and the Amphibian Man.
The believers of this theory are using Giles’ prologue to support the idea that our protagonist is indeed dead. At the very end, Giles’ last words refer to Elisa almost as a distant memory, hinting that she is no longer among us.
Others have a slightly different version of this theory: Elisa is dead, but the Amphibian Man survived. Since the creature has healing powers, he was able to recover from the gunshot but sadly, Elisa wasn’t that fortunate. In this ending, the Amphibian Man takes Elisa’s dead body and jumps into the water.
Ending Theory no.2 – The ending is real
In this theory, both Elisa and the Amphibian Man managed to escape and were able to live happily ever after.
The Amphibian ended Strickland’s life with a single slash in the throat and took Elisa away from the human world. Under the water, the creature used his healing powers to bring her back to life and turned Elisa’s scars into gills so she could breathe under water.
Although Giles refers to Elisa as a distant memory, she’s still alive, just no longer living among humans. Since he never saw her again, Giles assumes that Elisa and Amphibian are still very happy together and were able to maintain their love for each other.
So in which ending shall we believe in?
Personally, I like to believe that Elisa is still alive. Although there is some ambiguity in the ending, Guillermo del Toro wants the audience to believe it’s real.
When I watched “The Shape of Water” for the very first time, I left the cinema smiling and happy. Not only have I watched an amazing story, but I was also very satisfied with the ending because I genuinely believe that those two really ended up together.
A few years later, I watched “The Shape of Water” for the second time, and I still enjoyed it. There wasn’t any a hint of sadness in my body. Once again, I still believe that Elisa was able to live happily ever after with her man. So, I guess the interpretation really depends on the person who is watching it.
If you believe that the fantasy aspect of story is real, why wouldn’t you believe that the protagonist had a happy ending? I mean, I’m already watching a film where the female protagonist falls in love with a fish-man… So, why is it so hard to believe that everything ends well?
The film states that the fish-man has healing powers, and people worshipped him in some random South American village. In addition, the creature is stronger when water is around.
Let me remind you that it was raining cats and dogs in the final scene, so it made sense why the fish-man would have the upper hand in a physical fight against someone like Strickland.
Although all theories are equally plausible, I believe that the ending is real, what you see is what you get.
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The Shape of Water (2016) [Blu-ray]
To be honest, I wasn’t quite ready for “The Shape of Water”. Just the premise alone was enough to catch me off guard. The leading lady falls in love with a fish-man? Actually, they call him the Amphibian Man but to me, fish-man sounds catchier.
Guillermo del Toro gave his audience what they needed, not what they wanted, which is a good thing. Was I in the mood to watch a cleaning lady fall in love with a water creature? Maybe not. But I’m glad I did, because I needed it. “The Shape of Water” enabled me to escape to a completely different universe for 2 hours.
So what is “The Shape of Water” about? First and foremost, the film is an unconventional but beautiful love story. Then, it tackles other issues such as discrimination, which comes in many forms: race (racism), gender (sexism) and social status (elitism).
The protagonist and hero of the story is Elisa, and she is mute. Despite not being able to speak, Elisa is a very strong character in her own way.
Even when her two best friends (Zelda and Giles) advised her not to help the Amphibian Man escape, Elisa did it anyway. However, her actions had nothing to do with selfish motivations, Elisa did it because it was the right thing to do.
Between Giles and Zelda, who would I pick as a friend? Definitely Zelda, she’s a true “ride and die”.
What bothers me about Giles is his cowardice. Sometimes, doing the “right thing” might cost your own life, so I get why he was afraid to help Elisa. However, his motivation for not helping Elisa wasn’t solely motivated by fear.
Here’s how I interpreted Giles’ change of heart: the illustrator didn’t want to mess up his sweet life because the old man thought that he had a shot with “cake guy”.
Turns out, Giles’ secret crush is not really that wholesome: “cake guy” is a huge homophobe and also pretty racist. Did you see his face of disgust and how he treated that Afro-American couple at the shop?
After being treated like a second class citizen by “cake guy”, Giles realized that he is no different from Elisa or even the Amphibian Man. Society is cruel and cold towards people who are “different”. Outraged by this realization, Giles decides to help Elisa.
Although I really loved “The Shape of Water”, I didn’t find it perfect. The way Elisa falls in love with a water creature is a bit unrealistic for my taste. As a human, if you saw a scary creature standing in front of you, would you be able to keep your cool? I think not. It’s in our nature to fear what we do not know.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m aware that “The Shape of Water” is a fantasy film, but I just cannot overlook the idea of ignoring primal instinct. By the way, were those “love scenes” between Elisa and the fish-man really necessary? Again, it was a bit too much for me.
You know what would be a game changer? If Elisa was indeed a water creature too, then the whole narrative would’ve been easier to digest. Or maybe if Elisa and fish-man remained good friends. Not every female-male relationship needs to bloom into a full-fledged romance in order to make a story worthwhile to watch.
The plot of “The Shape of Water” might have its kinks, but the visuals and music are undeniably good. These elements really take the film to a whole different level. I found myself smiling during the entire film because of the music, it really sets the mood and gives you that fairy-tale vibe. It’s kind of addictive.
For those who are curious, guess how much it cost to make “The Shape of Water”? About 20 million dollars. Now, that’s impressive. Although it sounds like a lot of money for us common folks, it’s really not a lot in the film industry.
Given the outcome, I would say that “The Shape of Water” looks five times more expensive than its original budget. By the way, the film was both a critical and commercial success.
Does the film deserve all the hype and accolades? I believe so. Sally Hawkins and Octavia Spencer earned Oscar nods for this film and rightfully so, their performances were amazing. Guillermo del Toro deserved to win that Oscar for Best Director, as he was the only one who actually brought something new to the table that year.
Overall, “The Shape of Water” is a cinematic experience like no other. It’s unique in its own right. Having said that, within a couple of years, the film might earn a cult following.