Characters found in The Shape of Water.
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Played by: Sally Hawkins
- Alliterative Name: Elisa Esposito.
- All Women Love Shoes: Elisa is very fond of high heels and owns multiple pairs. On her journey to the bus stop, she is distracted by the latest pair of heels on a revolving platform in the shoe store window in the same way that Strickland will be distracted by the latest model Cadillac on a revolving platform at the car dealership.
- Ambiguously Human: She was found as a baby near a river, unable to speak presumably due to the gill-like scars on her neck. At the end of the movie, the scars wind up actually functioning as gills.
- In an interview Del Toro confirms Elisa is not entirely human and describes her and the asset as the last of a species.
- Beast and Beauty: The Beauty to The Asset's Beast.
- Beneath Notice: The biggest reason her romance with the Asset goes unnoticed and she is able to help him escape: she's a mute cleaning lady. Strickland is only interested in her for a brief moment when contemplating an affair with her, though in the novel he's rather obsessive about her.
- Brainy Brunette: Zelda describes her as very educated and she quickly comes up with a plan to save the Asset.
- Changeling Fantasy: Possibly. The lack of information about her past and the fact that the Asset turns her scars into gills at the end leaves open the possibility that she was originally from the sea just like the Asset.
- Cowardly Lion: Giles praises Elisa for being very brave and relaxed when they prepare to free the Asset. She admits that she is actually very terrified.
- Cute Mute: Older than many versions, but she is often very adorable and is unable to speak.
- A Date with Rosie Palms: Part of her daily routine even. Word of God says it's meant to humanize her character, to avoid the perfect and innocent character that people could read her as.
- Disney Death: Near fatally shot by Strickland at the end of the film, but is then healed by the Asset.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: After a hell of a lot of struggle, including briefly dying, she finally manages to live happily ever after with the Asset beneath the ocean.
- Good Scars, Evil Scars: She has scars on the sides of her neck that look like gills, which is the reason she is mute. However, the Asset does heal them at the end of the movie, giving her gills to breathe underwater.
- Informed Attractiveness: Inverted. She's seen as "not much to look at" within the film, though clearly the Asset doesn't think so.
- Interspecies Romance: Ends up falling for the Asset because he can empathize with her in a way other people can't.
- Maybe Ever After: In-Universe as her friends don't have the information that she survived her bullet wounds like the audience does, even still Giles informs the audience that he likes to believe that Elisa is somewhere living happily ever after with the Asset, and it can most likely be assumed Zelda feels the same.
- Meaningful Name: Her surname "Esposito" is a name given to foundlings, and she herself was found as a baby on the side of a river, already unable to speak.
- Mysterious Past: We never learn how she got those scars on her neck or who her real parents were.
- Odd Friendship: With Giles, the secluded old artist who lives next door.
- Platonic Life-Partners: With Giles again.
- The Speechless: She is mute and uses Sign Language to communicate. Part of her attraction to the Asset is that, since he can't speak either, he doesn't think of her as lacking anything.
- Stealth Insult: Gleefully tells Strickland to fuck off, taking advantage of his lack of understanding of sign language.
Played by: Doug Jones
- Beast and Beauty: The Beast to Elisa's Beauty.
- Blue and Orange Morality: How Giles forgives him when the Asset eats his cat: the Asset does not understand human customs and rules, and so cannot be hated simply for getting what seemed to him as easy food. Even then, the Asset appears to learn that eating people's cats is not something that'll get you friends and is later seen peacefully playing with the ones he didn't harm.
- His attack on the cat may have also been a reaction to it hissing at him, which he took as a challenge. The other cats react to him calmly, so he doesn't attack them.
- Cold-Blooded Torture: Subjected to this by Strickland repeatedly.
- Cute Mute: Cannot speak, like Elisa. However, he can make weak vocalizations. He's much easier to understand when he signs.
- Dark Is Not Evil: He wouldn't be out of place in a Lovecraft horror story or a 50's monster movie, but he's unquestionably a good soul.
- The Dog Bites Back: Bites off several of Strickland's fingers in retaliation for all the Electric Torture. He is also the one to kill Strickland in the end.
- Exotic Equipment: Elisa described The Asset as having a retractable penis.
- Expy: His design is clearly based on the Creature from the Black Lagoon. He even comes from South America.
- He also looks similar to Abe Sapien in Hellboy, which was also directed by Del Toro, and both are portrayed by the same actor. Plus, the both of them love eggs and have magical hands.
- Fish People: Lives in water as its primary habitat, but it apparently has two completely distinct respiratory systems that allow it to breathe either water or air, albeit temporarily as he requires to dwell in water to survive. It is credited as "Amphibian Man."
- God Guise: The Asset was worshiped as a deity and given food offerings by a primitive tribe in the Amazonian region. This turns out to be justified when it is revealed the Asset can rapidly regenerate from injuries and pass some of this same regenerative factor to others.
- Good Is Not Soft: The Asset is empathetic for the most part, but is still a dangerous creature that shows aggressive behavior when provoked. Strickland learned it the hard way. Twice.
- Healing Hands: It turns out that the Asset can heal the injuries and diseases of others with a touch, including regrowing lost hair. At the end of the movie, it is revealed that this also applies to himself, to the extent of shrugging off bullet wounds, and that he can even reshape human physiology.
- Hermaphrodite: Word of God is that the Asset has both sets of reproductive organs.
- It Can Think: When Bob /Dimitri witnesses the Asset connect with Eliza over hard boiled eggs and music, he comes to the conclusion that it's a sentient creature that does not deserve to be torn open while alive by Strickland and General Hoyt. This is also the reason why even though he's ordered to by his K.G.B. handlers to euthanize the Asset and compromise the possibility that the Americans should get any useful information from his vivisection, Bob/Dimitri sabotages his mission by helping Eliza to liberate the Asset.
- Klingons Love Shakespeare: Eliza wins him over by playing jazz, and he's later awestruck at a movie screen.
- Non-Humans Lack Attributes: His chest and crotch are streamlined, with no visible nipples or genitalia. At least not when the camera's on him; after she gets to know him better, Elisa learns that he does have genitalia that only becomes external when it's in use (which the audience doesn't get to see first-hand).
- Riddle for the Ages: Just what is he, exactly? Is he the last of an extinct race? A mutated human being? Is he actually a god? We may never know.
- Single Specimen Species: There is never shown to be more creatures of his species, and Strickland refers to him as an aberration of nature. He may be some sort of mutant.
- Volcanic Veins: Shines with bio-luminescent lines when he's using his powers and seemingly as a way to communicate.
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Something many other characters grapple with when dealing with him, as he is clearly intelligent and empathetic, but also inhuman.
- You Sexy Beast: The Asset is a Fishmen and Elisa's Love Interest.
Zelda Delilah Fuller
Played by: Octavia Spencer
- Bad Liar: Calls herself this, and proves it during her and Elisa's interrogation from Strickland where she can barely keep a straight face when asked if she knows anything about the missing Asset. Only Strickland's lack of attention keeps them from being found out.
- Black Best Friend: To Elisa, who she frequently translates for.
- Sassy Black Woman: She is not afraid of insulting her husband and bosses when they aren't around. Considering the early 60s weren't exactly accommodating to women and people of color, one needs to find catharsis where they can get it.
- Seen It All: She shows disgust at all the blood in the Asset's chamber, but other than that, she seems unfazed by the fact that the room is practically drenched in it.
- Translator Buddy: She is the one who translates Elisa's sign language when Giles is not around.
Played by: Richard Jenkins
- All Love Is Unrequited: Becomes attracted to a friendly waiter at the local diner, only to discover that the man is a racist and homophobe when he tries to make a move.
- Armoured Closet Gay: Sadly enforced by the time period.Giles: Sometimes I think I was born too early or too late for my life.
- Camp Gay: More subtle than most examples, but he still counts.
- Classical Anti-Hero: He's a neurotic mess with a failing career, and a bit of a coward to boot, but he's an undeniably good person.
- Crazy Cat Lady: Male version; a lonely poetic soul who keeps at least a good half-dozen cats in spite of being a self-professed financially-struggling "starving artist."
- Dodgy Toupee: Elisa is not impressed by it.
- Gayngst: His sexuality causes him loneliness and stress, especially when he finds out the guy at the pie shop is a homophobe and a racist.
- Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow: One of Giles' great regrets is that he no longer has the hair he had in in his youth. He resorts to wearing a toupee when he wants to impress people, such as the diner owner. He is overjoyed when the Asset uses his Healing Hands to cause his hair to regrow.
- Like a Son to Me: It's implied throughout the movie that he basically raised Elisa.
- Nervous Wreck: He's not great under pressure. He nearly gets caught when trying to extract the Asset because of it.
- Nice Guy: A sensitive, kind and soft-hearted soul who is compassionate towards his fellow humans (and of course The Asset), and is notably one of the few non racist white men in this movie. He is even quick to forgive The Asset for eating one of his cats in hunger, in spite of being initially understandably horrified by the sight of him doing so.
- Platonic Life-Partners: He has a close bond with Elisa, but it's merely platonic as they both have different sexual orientations.
- Starving Artist: Describes himself as one, and for good reason (his work is considered obsolete because of photography).
- Trademark Favorite Food: He keeps a whole mini-fridge full of key lime pie, but not exactly to eat them. He's only buying the pies as an excuse to see the waiter at the diner that sells them, whom he has a crush on.
Col. Richard Strickland
Played by: Michael Shannon
- Abhorrent Admirer: Starts developing an attraction to Elisa out of a very misogynistic fetish for silent women. She's clearly creeped out by it.
- Adaptation Personality Change: The version of him in the novelization is simultaneously both better and worse. The novel version is often aware of the boundaries he's pressing or overstepping, is mildly more self-aware, and feels guilt or horror over some of the things he's done in the past, though not enough to change his ways. The film version is far more classist, the book version shot a dolphin and murdered a baby in Korea. Most notably though is his death; the novel Strickland weeps and follows an astonished "You are a god" with an apology, and is happy to die, feeling that he's "opened", that all his sins leave him.
- Anti-Role Model: In the novelization, his son is shown early signs of Troubling Unchildlike Behavior, such as being caught dissecting a lizard and talking down to his sister and mother. Rather than reprimanding him, Richard feels nothing but pride for his son.
- Asshole Victim: Even at the very start of the movie, it's hard to sympathize with his losing his fingers to the Asset. It's equally hard to feel anything but satisfaction when the Asset finally kills him.
- Bad Boss: He is not at all nice to those he has authority over.
- Big Bad: The main antagonist of the film.
- Compensating for Something: His whole character seems to be built around this. His favorite weapon is an unusually long cattle prod, the car salesman gets him to buy a Cadillac by appealing to his masculinity, his various rules seem to be how he views a man remaining in control, and he craves the approval of a higher-ranked man, Hoyt.
- Control Freak: A prime example; as a white male in a position of power in the 60's, he'll do any and everything to maintain dominance in a situation. This even extends to his sexual proclivities, as he seemingly gets turned on by silence in women and actively covers his wife's mouth when she starts to mention that he's bleeding on her during intercourse.
- Dad the Veteran: Served in Korea and has a wife and two kids.
- Death by Disfigurement: Doomed by getting two of his fingers bitten off by the creature. When was the last time you saw a character survive in this situation?
- Electric Torture: He regularly tortures the Asset with an electric cattle prod.
- Establishing Character Moment: You practically get a gist of what he's like considering he enters a bathroom with a bloody cattle prod, acts condescending towards Elisa and Zelda, and washes his hands before he takes a piss because of some Insane Troll Logic.
- Famous Last Words: "Fuck. You are a god".
- Faux Affably Evil: He keeps up the idea that he's a typical nuclear family man when he's really just a cruel and despicable individual.
- Fingore: He gets two of his fingers bitten off by the Asset near the beginning of the movie. Once you get to know him, you see it was totally earned.
- Hate Sink: Strickland rarely misses a chance to Kick the Dog, being condescending to everyone and anyone save General Hoyt.
- Ikea Erotica: In the novelization fantasizes about sex with Elaine, of them moving dryly like "blocks of wood" on a white sheet.
- Innocently Insensitive: There is no indication that Strickland has any inkling of respect to Zelda in the film, making various off-color remarks like she was not even there. Strickland in the novelization however finds her proclivity to constantly say "yes, sir" and "no, sir" to be rather irritating. He recalls a fellow soldier that happened to be black be court-martialed for a crime he did not commit because he would not contradict his commanding officer. This shows that while he does have some semblance of awareness to unfair racial prejudices, such views are also rather short-sighted given how limiting and hostile America was for both women and dark-skinned individuals at the time.
- Insane Troll Logic: Washes his hands before using the urinal, but not after, because he believes that doing both is a sign of weakness.
- Jerkass: Big time. Not three statements go by without him being condescending to his peers (or almost anyone around him, really).
- Large Ham: Courtesy of being played by Michael Shannon: "WHAT! IS SHE SAYING?!?!"
- The Last Dance: Realizing that his fingers have long gone septic and he is dying from gangrene, Strickland decides to settle all his unfinished business with the Asset and the various cast members who have crossed him at the end of the movie.
- Oh, Crap!: At the end, when he sees that the Asset has healed himself of his gunshot wounds, and is moving in for the kill. It also seems to be a realization that he's been dealing with something beyond anyone's ability to understand.
- One Last Job: Believes in the novelization that handling the Asset will finally be enough that Hoyt has no more hold over him.
- Oral Fixation: He is constantly popping green candies into his mouth, and claims they are symbolic of his personality: plain and simple. Most of the times he likes to make them last, but when stressed, he crunches them. After he loses his fingers, he alternates sucking candies with popping pain pills.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Classist, racist, sexist, xenophobic and a hypocritical religious zealot, quoting the Bible when he finds it convenient with a literal fetish for women who don't talk. Basically the worst side of American Culture during the 60's incarnated into one hell of a bag.
- Red Right Hand:
- The surgery to reattach his fingers bitten off by the Asset is unsuccessful. Throughout the movie, the fingers - like Strickland's mental state in general - progressively deteriorate, until they're completely black with gangrene.
- Also paralleled in a pathetic fallacy manner when the collision with Giles' van damages one side of his Cadillac.
- Screams Like a Little Girl: In the novelization he sees Giles' van hit his car and cries out in a high voice that Giles first believes comes from a woman.
- Standard '50s Father: Deconstructed. His home life obviously brings him no pleasure, despite a very loving wife and two good-seeming kids. The mediocrity drives his need for compensation.
- Straw Misogynist: There are three female characters he interacts with (Elisa, Zelda and his wife Elaine) and he gets at least one moment each to express his offhanded contempt for their autonomy. He also seems to have a very sexist fetish for silent women, covering his wife's mouth when she complained about him bleeding on her when they are having sex and his creepy fascination with the mute Elaine.
- Trademark Favorite Food: Strickland loves cheap green candies and is seen popping them constantly. He even claims they are symbolic of his personality: plain and simple.
- Villainous Crush: Has an attraction to Elisa due to his fetish for silent women.
- Villains Out Shopping: Strickland's one glimmer of real happiness and satisfaction comes after he buys the teal Caddy and is shown tooling around in it like a big shot, getting waved at by pretty young women on the highway. The grille and right fender are damaged less than 24 hours later, adding insult to injury.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Has a bit of this relationship with Hoyt in their final scene together, desperately looking for a way to still get Hoyt's approval despite losing the Asset.
Dr. "Robert Hoffstetler" / Dimitri
Played by: Michael Stuhlbarg
- All There in the Manual: The supplemental book The Shape of Water: Creating a Fairy Tale for Troubled Times gives his real full name as Dimitri Antonovich Mosenkov.
- Anti-Hero: He's an invaluable, loyal ally of the heroes, but he's also a Soviet spy with zero compunctions about murdering a gate guard to help speed the breakout of the Asset along.
- Big Damn Heroes: Saves Giles from being arrested by the gate guard when he stabs a poison syringe into his neck.
- Cruel and Unusual Death: Gets shot multiple times by his fellow spies and Strickland, including one in the cheek. Then after that, he gets dragged around by said face wound and tortured by Stirckland to make him reveal where Elisa and the Asset are.
- Chummy Commies: A Soviet agent and a loyal ally to the heroes. He even rebels against his KGB superiors for them, but nothing indicates he's lost his belief in communism as a philosophy.
- Do Not Call Me "Paul": Does not like being called Bob. At all.
- Even Evil Has Standards: As he explains to Mihalkov, while he came to America out of patriotism for Russia, he also came to learn. In fact, the only semi-evil thing he does is turn over information on the facility to his Russian handlers. Otherwise, his main focus is keeping the Asset alive.
- Famous Last Words: After being tortured, he decides to get a parting shot in at Strickland, possibly out of hysteria by how he was laughing, by telling him there was no strike team that got the Asset out, but the cleaners. Sadly, this sends Strickland right to Zelda's house."No names. No ranks. They just clean."
- First-Name Basis: Overwhelmed by the amount of trust Elisa and Zelda has in him, Dimitri reveals his true name. Sadly, it's the last time he speaks to the both of them.
- For Science!: A sympathetic version, as he feels the Asset is much more valuable to study while alive, in addition to realizing it is much more intelligent than the mere animal others view it as.
- HeelFace Turn: He begins as a Soviet spy relaying information about the Asset project to the KGB, but he ends up defying both his superiors and the people he's infiltrating to rescue the Asset from death. Notably, when he confronts Elisa, he at first asks "who do you work for?"—then drops it, indicating he doesn't care so long as he can get the Asset to safety where it belongs.
- It Has Been an Honor: Says as such to Elisa and Zelda after he reveals his true name to them, emotionally touched when Elisa tells him (through signing) that he's a good man.
- Minion with an F in Evil: While he does work for the KGB during the Cold War, he doesn't have the heart to kill The Asset to prevent the US from learning its secrets.
- One Last Job: Believes in the novelization that if he handles the Asset situation he gets to go home to the parents he hasn't seen in decades.
- Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Both the Soviets and Strickland are dimly aware that he betrayed them both and is trying to get away with it. Both parties wind up giving him a very excruciating and prolonged demise.
- Russian Guy Suffers Most: Not only does he get filled with bullets by his own compatriots, but Strickland saves him only to torture him before he succumbs to his wounds.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: As he lays dying, he mockingly tells a furious Strickland that it wasn't the works of a highly trained espionage squad that got the Asset out of the facility, it was just the cleaners who did that. Unfortunately, this implicates Elisa and Zelda, both of whom were earlier considered Beneath Notice by Strickland, which leads Strickland straight to them.
- What the Hell Is That Accent?: His speaking mannerisms are very weird. Considering he's a Russian pretending to be an American, it's justified.
Played by: Nick Searcy
- Bad Boss: He doesn't treat Stickland with much respect, which probably isn't a bad thing. For more details, see Kick the Son of a Bitch.
- Control Freak/Kick the Dog: It's heavily implied the main reason he decides to kill the Asset is because Dr. Hoffstetler told him he couldn't.
- General Ripper: General Hoyt has hints of being a slightly more restrained version of this. He seems to be pushed to ordering the Asset vivisected more by the doctor's insistence that he can't than by Strickland's arguments why he should.Hoyt: (pointing to his shoulder board) Count the stars. There's five of them. That means I can do WHATEVER THE FUCK I WANT.
- Greater-Scope Villain: The main motivation for Strickland to do what he does.
- In the novelization he never appears directly, is never directly quoted, but his presence looms large in all of Strickland's narration. Late in the book it's revealed that when Hoyt and Strickland were fighting together in Korea Hoyt had a village killed and the bodies piled into a mine, but suspected that the villagers had been innocent and if any of them were alive they could crawl out and cause bad PR. His solution was to send Strickland in there with a knife, and when he kills the last survivor - an infant - he comforts Strickland as if the other man were a small child. Hoyt used this incident to blackmail Strickland into doing many other things for him over the years.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: His final speech to Strickland, who obviously craves his approval, is to make it clear this may be Strickland's first fuck up, but it's still a huge fuck up that will cost Strickland his career if not fixed immediately.
- Small Role, Big Impact: Isn't in the film for long, but his presence is what motivates Strickland, he makes the call to kill the Asset, and his speech in his final scene is what drives Strickland over the edge.
- Sophisticated as Hell: He makes a long speech about how Strickland will be erased from history and forgotten if he fails to recapture the Asset. Excerpts from this monologue includes "an alternate universe of shit" and "unfuck this mess."
Played by: David Hewlett
- Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: He is a nebbishy nervous wreck; Strickland, as soon as he arrives, is pushing him around without getting the least resistance. The last time we see him is when Strickland commandeers his car and kicks him out of it.
- Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Him immediately reporting the Asset's escape to General Hoyt is what causes Strickland's descent into madness to start snowballing.
- Yes-Man: After Strickland arrives and takes control, Fleming turns sycophant and spends the rest of the movie brown-nosing him.
Played by: Nigel Bennett
Played by: Lauren Lee Smith
- Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: It's hard to say just how she feels about Richard in the film given the focus, but in the book when he was away for sixteen months capturing the Asset she started to realize that she didn't need him and that she enjoyed making decisions on her own. With his return she tried to convince them both that she was a loving and happy wife, but it's increasingly obvious that she's growing more and more afraid of him as he becomes less and less like the man she married.
- Career Versus Man: Takes a part-time job with hours comfortably within the hours Richard spends at work, knowing he wouldn't like her working, and is conflicted when offered a full-time position, then even moreso when she sees how her boss lies cruelly to Giles. In the end she chooses career, but it's also Take a Third Option: she takes the kids and skips town before the finale, confident that she can get a job anywhere.
- Demoted to Extra / Ascended Extra: In the film her most prominent moment is having her mouth covered in the middle of sex with Richard. In the novelization she is one of the six POV characters, though she's also the least connected to the others and the least relevant.
- Extreme Doormat: Her arc in the book is her growing out of this.
- Housewife: It's what dear Richard wants, and it was enough for her, once. As she starts working she can't keep up appearances in quite the same way.
- Letting Her Hair Down: Initially wears a "beehive" hairdo, her choosing a more casual and wavier hairstyle like her coworkers coincides with her last illusions about her marriage disappearing.