To this day, Creature From The Black Lagoon remains one of my favorite Universal Monster movies. The film affected me at a young age and struck me as strange, even back then. Like many of the creatures that captured my young imagination (Godzilla, Gamera, the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park), the amphibious Gilman was a being out of time, a relic born from the primordial soup. In my heart of hearts, I knew I was supposed to be afraid. However, I couldn’t help but feel pity for the creature.
In the last act, the Gilman abducts a young, beautiful woman and absconds with her to his lair. The woman is terrified and curls away from the creature with abject horror as he approaches. At that moment, I felt sad and it was only amplified once the chiseled-jaw hero riddled the Gilman with bullets. I didn’t really understand what I was feeling back then and forgot about it summarily as young minds do.
Nonetheless, I would see these moments of peace over and over again in similar movies with beastly horrors and so came to accept that beauty always undoes the beast, unless the beast can redeem his monstrous attributes and cast off his freakish form. You can imagine the kind of loneliness that idea can inspire in someone who sees something grotesque in themselves for one reason or another. I think that void is something many people can relate to and it isn’t talked about too openly for fear of consequence or rejection.
Guillermo Del Toro is another man who felt sadness at a young age when he witnessed the Gilman meet an untimely end. In fact, he made a whole movie some 63 years later to right the perceived wrong. The Shape of Water is not just Del Toro’s love letter to a classic film; its a love letter to all the people who have ever felt the pit of loneliness.
Neither the Amphibian Man nor the mute woman change to be with each other, they stay as they always were. Del Toro’s statement is clear: Love is not about a revision of self, it’s simply about being and receiving acceptance for it.