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Headscratchers / The Shape of Water

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  • Strickland has a normal, loving family in spite of being unbalanced himself. When his fingers have rotten to the point of turning black, why didn't his family notice?
    • As someone who had this kind of father figure, they probably are used to never question his decisions and at most worrying behind his back.
    • Strickland is the ultimate American father, the mold from which satirical characters like Stan Smith are produced. His wife briefly makes him notice his hand is bleeding and he keeps having sex with her like there's nothing to care about. They simply defer to him for every decision, worrying but without ever even thinking to question his absolute judgement.
  • Why did Dimitri had to reveal that it was the cleaners who break the Asset out of the facility? I know it's supposed to be one last taunt to Strickland before he died, but it also implicates Elisa and Zelda which lead Strickland straight to them when he could've easily send him on a wild goose chase or say nothing at all. Up until then, Strickland has absolutely no leads, and if it wasn't for Dimitri's Famous Last Words, Elisa and Giles would have released the Asset back into the ocean without incident. One of the very few gripes I have for the movie.
    • I didn't see it as a deliberate taunt: the impression I got was that Dimitri was slipping away, he was half-crazed with the pain of being shot in the gut and dragged around by his mouth, and his brain-mouth filter had shut down.
    • He still was a proud Russian agent and probably said that as the ultimate mockery, as if to say "you Americans think you can stop us, but can't even manage to stop a couple of janitors".
    • Also cleaners is military/criminal lingo for the fixers, the squads employed to erase the traces of the strike squads or slipping bribes around to pay for their easy escape. It was the last joke of a feverish, dying man taunting someone who he clearly despised: he was obviously referring to Elisa, but he wanted to make Strickland feel humiliated from a nameless fixer.
  • Why did Elisa view herself as so freakish and unlovable? I had trouble believing that guys who weren't awful people like Michael Shannon's character wouldn't have asked her out often.
    • I don't think she sees herself as freakish or unlovable. She doesn't seem upset that she's living alone at the start of the movie or anything. But being asked out isn't the same thing as being seen as she is, i.e. not thinking of her as someone lesser because she's disabled.
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    • What I got from the movie is that she's supposed to be incredibly ugly in-universe; of course she isn't as she's portray by a good-looking actress despite having certain effort into make her look as unatractive as possible, but that places it into Willing Suspension of Disbelief territory.
      • I didn't get the impression that she was supposed to be ugly at all, just seen as having less worth because of her disability. Elisa herself feels ugly because she is ignored and looked down on. Only Strickland is insulting towards her and he's a total dick, so his opinion isn't worth much.
      • They had to downplay Sally Hawkins' real life attractiveness as much as possible to make believable that she's so lonely. I think Roger Ebert once said something along the lines of those movies where Julia Roberts can't get a date. She might not be intended to be ugly in-universe, but certainly would be cast aside in such time when women were expected to be perfect in every way. A little like Strickland's wife, the typical Stepford Smiler wife whose work is to look pretty.
      • No in-movie source describes Elisa as outright freakish: she's a speech impaired woman, past her prime, stuck in a lowly job and lonely in times in which if you weren't already a wife and a mother at her age, you were likely to die as an unloved spinster. Even Strickland, the only one describing her as ugly, has clearly the hots for her, thus she's not without graces. She's just fearing to die alone because no one would even bother interacting with the mute cleaning lady with no social life.
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    • It's her disability giving her I Am Not Pretty. Plus if she's mute, it would be hard for guys to talk to her - as they would have to learn sign language first. A lot of them might assume she's deaf too. So it would require a lot of work to be her friend - and the society of the time just didn't have a lot of people like that. She feels sorry for the creature because she identifies with him - as he can't communicate so easily to others.
  • What was Giles thinking making such a bold pass at the diner owner? Even by today's standards it would be considered ridiculously forward and could even get you beaten up. Giles lives in an era where he could've been put in prison so surely he would've known better and asked the guy if he wanted to see a game or a show to better judge the situation before trying something.
    • Reality Is Unrealistic: it was hard for gay people to hook up at that time when it was such a taboo, it’s even hard today outside of gay bars that not everyone likes to go. If the person has been lonely for years is not unlikely for him to be so desperate and anxious.
    • Elisa and Giles are best buddies because they're cut from the same mold: Elisa obviously fears to end up lonely because she's a disabled woman with no friends and social life wishing for someone to love her the way she is, and not pity/ignore/fetishize her because of her condition, and Giles fears ending up grey, old and alone in an aging body he doesn't recognize anymore. Elisa is desperate enough to put her life on the line for the Asset's love, Giles is desperate enough to think a chatty, homophobic shopkeeper may be interested in him.
      • I totally understand why he wanted to get with the shopkeeper. As a gay man I empathise with him but even these days I would take a bit more time to "test the waters" and see if the guy wanted to spend time with me outside of the shop. I certainly wouldn't take a tender hold of the shopkeeper's hand, unless I was confident that there was really something between us. That is the part where Giles drops the ball big time, and in his era it's downright dangerous. To me it makes him look stupid.
      • Sometimes people make stupid mistakes.
    • From a character perspective, Giles is just terrified and clumsy. He's been going to the diner for ages, paralyzed by fear from making even the slightest move. When he finally builds up enough courage to take a step, the dams burst, and he vents everything he'd been holding back, a terrible mistake that has a predictable outcome. From a story perspective, it simply needs to happen this way. We don't have enough time to follow Giles intelligently slow-playing the waiter, and if he correctly deduced that the waiter is incompatible before embarrassing himself, he wouldn't suffer the shock that convinces him to throw everything away to help Elisa's desperate run at her unlikely love.
  • When the general gives to speech to Strickland about how Strickland will soon be "out of this universe", what exactly is he referring to? Getting fired? Imprisoned? Executed?
    • The novelization actually makes that easier to understand. Basically, during the Korean war the General mistakenly ordered an attack on a village, and to cover-up the massacre he ordered Strickland to kill the last survivor, a kid. Thing is, the general could easily pin the whole massacre on Strickland, and used that as blackmail material and to make him a puppet for him.
  • Why did they have to wait for the rains so the water canal was full enough to release the merman? Why not drive a few blocks further (the end of the canal is in plain view) and drop him directly in the sea?


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