The Shape of Water
via Fox Searchlight Pictures

With the Oscars fast approaching, most of the film industry is concerned over their nominations and wardrobe choices for the big night on March 4th. Meanwhile, Guillermo Del Toro’s The Shape of Water has been nominated for “Best Plagiarism.”

David Zindel – son of the 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper playwright’s Paul Zindel – seeks to take Del Toro and Fox to court on the grounds of “obviously” plagiarizing his father’s play.

via Vanity Fair

The Guardian, who broke the original story, described both movies’ plots for comparison as follows,

In both stories, a female cleaner works a night shift at a lab and falls for an aquatic creature that is the subject of mysterious science experiments. Both women develop a relationship by bringing food to the animal and dancing with a mop in front of the tank to the tune of a love song.

The two cleaner characters both learn to communicate with the creatures, and both labs are involved in secretive military operations. The protagonists both discover imminent plans to kill the creature, and both labs mention “vivisection”.

Both women also devise plans to rescue the animal and release it to the sea by sneaking it out in a laundry cart. In “Let Me Hear You Whisper”, named after a song lyric that the laboratory plays for the dolphin, the creature repeatedly says “hamper” to the protagonist, Helen, to encourage her to get a laundry cart.

Both women are friends with another janitor who helps them – Danielle in one version of Zindel’s work and Zelda in Del Toro’s film, played by Octavia Spencer, who was nominated for an acting Oscar alongside Hawkins.

Photo credited to YouTube/Allstar/Fox Searchlight Pictures.

When described in this manner, the two stories seem fairly similar, but as Fox Searchlight claims to Deadline after near a month of handling this case:

The way the play has been described, in the suit and along the way as these reports have appeared, it seems to be undoubtedly about a dolphin, and animal experimentation, about an animal being freed from a lab, and that is the end of it. The Shape of Water is so many things, so many colors. It’s not about an animal, it’s about an elemental river god. These ideas are not interchangeable or equivalent; this would be tantamount to saying that E.T. would be the same story if you substituted the alien for a hamster.

While at a surface level their plots are heavily similar, both movies seem to have crucial elements within their plots that make them drastically different from one another. This is especially prevalent in conjunction with audiences speculating that Del Toro intended The Shape of Water to be a sequel or successor to The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

The Shape of Water has received critical acclaim and is (currently) nominated for 13 Oscars, including: Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Costume Design. Despite Del Toro’s suspicions that the plagiarism claim has come forth this close to the Oscars in an effort to capitalize on the film’s success, he wants to handle this dispute in a court of law in opposition to rumors and article headlines;

I really cannot stomach the timing of this accusation. It’s pretty transparent what is happening here. To me, it’s actually a relief to take something from the arena of opinion into the arena of fact and law.