This article comes from Den of Geek UK.
NB: The following contains major spoilers for The Shape Of Water.
Humans are great at spotting patterns in things. From faces in clouds to a coherent plot in the Fast And Furious franchise, our brains are programmed to theorize, make connections, join dots, and then write lengthy posts about them on the internet.
Although the theory wasn’t entirely new, the notion that Pixar’s animated movies all take place in a single universe took the web by storm in 2013. Thanks to Jon Negroni’s Pixar Theory, the studio’s movies provide an almost complete history of planet Earth, from early humans (see The Good Dinosaur) right through to the far-future and the rise of sentient vehicles (see the Cars franchise – or rather, don’t).
Other commenters (and even filmmakers at Pixar itself) have picked holes in the idea, but it’s a fun thought experiment all the same: like a lot of theories, the Pixar Universe takes something broad, messy and made by lots of diverse minds, and turns it into a unified whole. Besides, YouTube videos about Pixar theories give us something diverting to watch while we eat our lunch.
To this end, consider this: Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning romantic fantasy The Shape Of Water might seem like a standalone film, but it’s actually part of a much wider cinematic universe – one that delves deep into our past and meditates on the future of our species.
First, a very quick recap: in 1960s America, a group of scientists capture the Gill-man from Creature From The Black Lagoon and drag it back to their top-secret research facility somewhere in Baltimore. A humble cleaner, Elisa Esposito (Sally Hawkins) falls in love with the creature and rescues it from its tormentor (Michael Shannon’s putrid Colonel Strickland). Back at Elisa’s apartment, she and the Gill-man embark on a passionate sexual relationship – it’s a bit like 9½ Weeks, but with more sea salt and localized flooding.
Angered by the mere existence of the creature, Colonel Strickland closes in for the kill – but he’s too late. Elisa and the creature escape into the sea, where it’s revealed that the scars on Elisa’s neck are really the vestiges of gills. The pair swim off on a new life together in the ocean, far away from the intolerance and awful musicals on dry land.
Del Toro’s fairytale appears to end here – except there’s a twist. After The Shape Of Water‘s credits roll, Elisa and the Gill-man have a child, who for now we’ll call Kevin. Bear with us, we’ll get to the point very shortly.
Our story picks up again several decades later. The polar ice caps have long since sheared off and melted and the whole Earth has become flooded with gallons of water, forcing the remnants of humanity to live on an assortment of boats, oil rigs and artificial islands made from old Justice League DVDs.
Pirates patrol the waves, and there are legends that a scrap of solid ground still exists out there among all the sea water and plastic straws. A hero known only as the Mariner holds the key to that mythical land – a hero who, with his gills and incredible ability to swim, may be the first in a new breed of humans who’ve adapted to this flooded landscape.
Yes! The Shape Of Water is a prequel to 1995’s Waterworld, which means the Gill-Man from The Creature From The Black Lagoon and Sally Hawkins are Kevin Costner’s parents. What other explanation could there be?!
There’s a possibility, too, that the pirate villain in Waterworld – Dennis Hopper’s Deacon, is a relative of Michael Shannon’s Colonel Strickland. It would certainly explain Deacon’s hatred of amphibians, power-hungry temperament, and tendency to lose his valuable body parts.
Viewed together, Universal’s classic horror movie, The Shape Of Water and Waterworld give us a complete history of humans and amphibious creatures: how their fates intertwine and, finally, unite forever in a soggy near-future. Creature From The Black Lagoon (directed by Jack Arnold and released in 1954) tells us the origins of the Gill-man: it’s an ancient creature from the Devonian period that has managed to survive the extinction of the dinosaurs and hide out in the Amazon.
But Creature From The Black Lagoon also tells us a lot about the cruelty and narrow-mindedness of humans; the Gill-man meets and falls in love with a comely scientist (Julie Adams), only to be shot full of lead by a bunch of guys with machine guns.
As Del Toro told us earlier this year, “What a beautiful movie, but what a horrible deal for the creature! He was at home swimming, and these guys barge in. He gets excited, and thinks maybe he’s in love, and then they kill him…”
In The Shape Of Water – literally a fish-out-of-water tale, if you think about it – the Gill-man travels to America and witnesses yet more inhumanity, but finally meets the woman of his dreams. It’s a happy ending for the creature, but also for the rest of us: together, Eliza and the Gill-man create Kevin Costner – the amphibious, fearless saviour of the human race.
Cast the cinematic net wider, and it’s possible to see all kinds of side-stories in the Shape Of Water universe. The cult horror gem Spring (2014) is another love story about a young man who falls in love with a humanoid sea creature – like the 80s classic Splash, except with lashings of David Cronenberg body horror. Paddington, released in 2014, is partly about Eliza’s British twin sister (also played by Sally Hawkins), who also happens to be really good at swimming. We could also throw in Humanoids From The Deep, Leviathan, and Studio Ghibli’s Ponyo.
As the chart above proves, however, it’s the three movies down the middle that form the spine of the Shape Of Water Cinematic Universe. Taken as a whole, these movies show us how to evolve, how to be less cruel, less narrow-minded.
In short, how to be less like scary Michael Shannon and more like Kevin Costner. With gills.