The Shape of Water (2017) is a fantasy film directed by Guillermo del Toro. It stars Sally Hawkins as a Elisa Esposito, Michael Shannon as Richard Strickland, Octavia Spencer as Zelda and Richard Jenkins as Giles.
The ending of The Shape of Water might raise some questions and today’s post aims to discuss the different theories surrounding the ending of the film. Before heading to that discussion, here’s a little recap of the story. Beware of spoilers.
The Shape of Water (2017) – Plot Summary
Elisa Esposito is a cleaner at a secret government laboratory located in Baltimore, Maryland. She was born mute. In order to communicate with her two best friends (Giles and Zelda) she uses sign language.
Giles is Elisa’s next-door neighbour. He’s a middle-age man, who’s struggling to find steady work as an advertising illustrator. Meanwhile, Zelda is a fellow cleaner at the laboratory. During their working hours, the two friends spend a lot of time together.
One day, while cleaning the men’s room, Elisa and Zelda come across Colonel Richard Strickland, a man of rigid beliefs. The colonel has just captured a mysterious creature from South America, which is now being hold captive at the research facility.
During lunchtime, Strickland walks out of the laboratory, with a bloody hand: he’s missing two fingers. The head of security (Fleming) summons Elisa and Zelda to clean up Strickland’s bloody trail. While cleaning the room, Elisa finds Strickland’s two fingers.
Personal curiosity prompts Elisa to visit the laboratory more often. There, the cleaner finds a creature who looks partly human with amphibian traits. Overtime, Elisa and the Amphibian Man develop a close bond.
Strickland proposes to dissect the Amphibian Man and General Frank Hoyt agrees to it. However, Dr. Hoffstetler (a Russian spy) strongly opposes to the idea of killing the creature in order to study it. Meanwhile, Elisa overhears the entire conversation.
Fearing for the Amphibian Man’s life, Elisa rushes to Giles to ask for his help. She wants him to help her get the creature out of the laboratory. At first, Giles refuses to participate in the plan, but after some thought, he agrees to it.
Dr. Hoffstetler also tries to persuade his Soviet handlers to keep the Amphibian Man alive but to no avail. They refuse and order the scientist to euthanise the creature.
Elisa takes her plan into action and Dr. Hoffstetler assists her in the process. Meanwhile, Zelda also becomes involved. At the very last minute, Elisa, Giles and the Amphibian Man manage to get out the research facility alive and unharmed.
Strickland is furious about the incident and starts interrogating all the staff, including Zelda and Elisa. Both women say nothing about the escape and Strickland lets them go.
While exploring his surroundings, the Amphibian Man eats of one Giles’ cats. The illustrator tries to reach out to the creature but he runs away. In the process, the Amphibian Man slashes Giles’ arm.
When Elisa finds out that the Amphibian man is missing, she goes looking for him. After a couple of attempts, Elisa finds the creature in the local theatre. She brings him back to her apartment.
The very next day, Giles finds out that hair is growing out from his previous bald spots and that his wounds have healed. Elisa’s friend realizes that the Amphibian Man has healing powers because he laid his hands on those precise spots the night before.
As time passes, Elisa’s and the creature’s romantic bond strengthens and the two get physically intimate.
General Hoyt gives an ultimatum to Strickland: either he finds the creature or his career will be over. As the days pass by, the Amphibian Man’s health starts to worsen.
Strickland’s suspicions about Dr. Hoffstetler leads him to follow the scientist’s every move. When Hoffstetler goes to meet his handlers, one of them tries to shoot him. However, Strickland intervenes and shoots both Russian handlers.
After pulling Hoffstetler aside, the colonel starts to torture the scientist. Strickland wants to know the names behind the Amphibian Man’s escape. Although Hoffstetler never gave their names away, he does hint that they belong to the cleaning team at the laboratory.
Hoffstetler’s last words make Strickland go after Elisa and Zelda. First, he heads to Zelda’s house. Although Elisa’s friend does not give in, her husband Brewster tells Strickland that the Amphibian Man is with Elisa.
Terrified, Zelda calls Elisa to warn her that Strickland is coming for both of them. When the Colonel arrives to Elisa’s place, they are already gone but Strickland sees a note about their plan.
Elisa and the Amphibian Man are at the canal. Meanwhile, the Colonel arrives, knocks Giles down and shots both Elisa and the Amphibian Man. Shortly after, the creatures rises up and heals himself.
Strickland is in utter disbelief with what he sees and Amphibian Man slashes his throat, leaving the Colonel to his death. Moments later, the police arrives with Zelda, the creature takes Elisa and jumps into the water.
In order to revive Elisa, the Amphibian Man gives her gills so she can breath underwater. The story ends with Giles epilogue: he believes that Elisa and the creature were able to remain in love and lived happily ever after.
The Shape of Water (2017) – Ending Explained
There are a couple of theories circulating around the ending of The Shape of Water. So, the main question is: what really happened at the end?
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?
Before we get into Giles’ prologue, let’s talk about Elisa’s scars.
Was Elisa A Mermaid?
There is a theory circulating around that Elisa was a sea creature herself and that her neck scars were actually gills. According to this theory, the Amphibian 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.
Theory #1 – The Amphibian Man and Elisa are dead
This theory is bit morbid. Some believe that Elisa and the creature are dead. Strickland shot them and they never woke up ever 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 gun shot but sadly Elisa wasn’t that fortunate. In this ending, the Amphibian takes Elisa’s dead body and jumps into the water.
Theory #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 to she can breathe under water.
Although Giles refers to Elisa as a distant memory, she’s still alive, just no longer living amongst 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 be 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 believed that those two really ended up together.
A few years later, I watched The Shape of Water for the second time, I still enjoyed and didn’t feel any 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 that 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 so hard to believe that everything ends well?
The film states that the fish-man has healing powers and people worshipped like a God in some a random South American village. In addition, the creature is the strongest 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.
ADD TO YOUR COLLECTION
To be honest, I wasn’t quite ready for the 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 come in many forms: race (racism), gender (sexism) and social status (elitism).
The protagonist and the hero of the story is Elisa and she is mute. Despite of 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 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 how Elisa falls in love with a water creature is a bit unrealistic for my taste. As a human, if you see 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 it be would 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 noteworthy 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 whole another 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 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 statue 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.