Blueprints: "The Shape of Water"
Thursday, January 18, 2018 at 3:00PM
Jorge Molina in Blueprints, Guillermo del Toro, Oscars (17), Richard Jenkins, Sally Hawkins, Screenplays, The Shape of Water

On the last week before the Oscar nominations are announced, Jorge takes a look at another of the potential screenplay contenders. This week, he explores a fight, in which one person has to speak both sides of dialogue.

Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water is a fairytale about the forbidden love between a mute woman and a captive fishman. But as much as the film is about their romance, it is also about the unique friendships and relationships made by those that society has pushed to its margins for being “different”. 

Let’s take a look at one of the most memorable scenes in the film, between Sally Hawkins’ hopeful and infatuated Elisa, and her closeted gay neighbor and best friend, Giles, played by Richard Jenkins. It’s a fight where Elisa not only begs him to help her save the creature, but also to be seen and understood...

The Shape of Water
Written by: Guillermo del Toro & Vanessa Taylor
[You can read the full script here. I will be talking about these pages.]

The main characters in The Shape of Water ware a mute woman, a black woman, a gay man, and a misunderstood creature; characters than in most movies would have been resigned to the sidelines as colorful ways to round the world. But here they take literal front stage.

One of the biggest challenges that the movie could have faced by having a mute woman as a protagonist was her losing agency or wholeness, since she is someone whose words have to constantly be interpreted and translated by others. The story makes sure that Elisa is well-rounded enough to stand her own ground without any words necessary.

However, this isn’t something that is completely evident in the pages of the script. Since she cannot talk, most of Elisa’s character is not brought out until Sally Hawkins’ performance, and what we see of her in the pages is usually through other characters.




In the fight scene between Elisa and Giles, we understand what she is saying only through his reactions, completion of sentences, and translation of signs. There isn’t much description about how she is saying what she is saying; only the words that she is signing and Giles is speaking back at her.

There is also very little to point out her physicality, or the mood and tone with which she is making these exclamations, something that would be vital in the final version of the film. We know her words and intentions by the way Giles is responding to them, with occasional descriptors like “pushes him”, “violently”, or in the very end, “she trembles in rage”.


But it is Sally Hawkins who brings this scene (and the whole movie) to life and reclaims Elisa’s agency and active role in the fight. It is not Giles interpreting her words anymore; it is her shouting her intentions and him trying to understand them. She fills her body with pleading, and rage, and frustration. She knows what she wants to say and she’s going to make sure it is said and heard. 

Richard Jenkins is also great at making a distinction between the words that are his and the ones that are Elisa’s, which in the script is only separated by quote. Giles has learned and mastered Elisa’s language, and knows when he ends and she begins. It’s a masterful demonstration of the way these two have gotten to know and understand each other. 

The script for The Shape of Water could only go so far as to developing Elisa as a character who can’t communicate with words. But the seeds are planted for Sally Hawkins to pick them up and turn them into the fully-fleshed, powerhouse performance she delivers. At the end of the day, her words are the least important thing of what she has to give.

Article originally appeared on The Film Experience (
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