How Did This Happen?
Hollywood Nerd points out the numerous similarities between Guillermo Del Toro's film and Paul Zindel's play. They also provide a timeline of the many, many people who have mentioned seeing one of the TV versions of the play and noted the curious overlaps between it and the Oscar-nominated Shape of Water. So was this a case of outright plagiarism by Guillermo Del Toro?
Perhaps this was not rank plagiarism but only unconscious copying. In a recent interview, Del Toro mentioned a 2011 meeting with his friend Daniel Kraus, a novelist, where Kraus gave him the idea for The Shape of Water. In the meeting, Kraus outlined the whole plot about the cleaning lady befriending an imprisoned sea creature in a Cold War-era research facility. And Del Toro immediately fell for the idea. As Del Toro told it, he had been trying for years to think up a romantic take on Creature From the Black Lagoon, and Kraus' idea finally provided the key that unlocked his own imagination. Incidentally, Kraus himself receives no credit on the movie.
Maybe Kraus was aware of the origins of the story, and simply didn't tell Del Toro where he got it from. Or maybe Kraus himself forgot the story's origins. Either way, fans of Paul Zindel are up-in-arms about what they see as rank thievery. Zindel himself passed away in 2003, but his son David spoke recently to The Guardian about the whole affair. He came right out and attacked Guillermo Del Toro and Fox Searchlight, saying to the Guardian in an email:
“We are shocked that a major studio could make a film so obviously derived from my late father’s work without anyone recognizing it and coming to us for the rights."
Fox Searchlight responded with their own statement, saying:
“Guillermo del Toro has never read nor seen Mr Zindel’s play in any form. Mr del Toro has had a 25 year career during which he has made 10 feature films and has always been very open about acknowledging his influences. If the Zindel family has questions about this original work we welcome a conversation with them.”
Del Toro incidentally faced previous accusations that he cribbed The Shape of Water from a Dutch short film called The Space Between Us. As reported by IndieWire, the Netherlands Film Academy had conversations with Del Toro about the matter and determined Del Toro was innocent of plagiarizing the short. But these new accusations that Del Toro nicked the idea for his Oscar-nominated film - consciously or unconsciously - will be a lot harder to shake.
Interestingly, both The Shape of Water and Let Me Hear You Whisper are reminiscent of a Nasa-funded 1963 experiment in which a woman called Margaret Howe Lovatt lived in a "domestic dolphinarium" and tried to teach a dolphin named Peter to talk (no, really). Because Peter was quite sexually aggressive, which made transporting him difficult, Lovatt would relieve him manually - "like an itch - just get rid of it, scratch it and move on." Peter never learned to speak, even after being injected with LSD at a later stage of the experiment in an effort to achieve results. After Lovatt left, the dolphin committed suicide - an act that the in-house vet attributed to a broken heart.
- The Shape of Water (2017) release date: Dec 01, 2017