All of Guillermo Del Toro’s movies (i.e. Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy), are lush, intensely sensual imaginings filled with scenes of dreamlike wonder. In The Shape of Water, sexuality finally takes center stage, and since Del Toro is the writer/director, the sexuality is like nothing ever seen before. The sexy female is an unlikely candidate named Elisa Espisito (Sally Hawkins), a mute, mousey, and orphaned Baltimore cleaning lady who mops up blood in a top-secret laboratory. The sexy male is even more unlikely. He is “The Asset” (Doug Jones), an amphibious Creature From the Black Lagoon-stye humanoid stolen by the American military as “research” from the Amazon River.
Elisa’s life is one of familiar routines—waking up at the same time each afternoon, starting her bath, eating cereal and milk, starting a pot of hard-boiled eggs, then setting the egg timer—not for just the eggs however, but to limit the amount of bathtub time she will spend masturbating. After dressing and packing her lunch, she goes next door to make sure her kindly, balding, magazine-illustrator neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), eats his dinner. Next, she catches the bus to work, joins her fellow after-hours cleaning woman Zelda Fuller (Octavia Spencer) in the lab’s check-in line, punches her time card, changes into comfortable shoes, and starts cleaning the lab from top to bottom. The blood Elisa needs to mop-up is the result of the chains, shackles, and electric cattle prod the xenophobic, patriarchal, Bible-thumping, security officer Richard Strickland (Michael Shannon) utilizes to keep The Asset “under control.”
The cleaners’ routine is shattered when they are summoned to “clean up a spill” in the lab room with the highest level of security. Quarts of blood cover the floor, and when Elisa swishes her mop under a cabinet, she discovers two recently severed fingers which she drops into her lunch bag for safe keeping.
The fingers belong to Strickland, and when he calls the cleaners into his office, he explains how the doctors “re-attached my digits,” but seems incapable of thanking Elise for cleverly putting them in her lunch bag. “I wondered how they got mustard on them,” is all he says.
Elisa begins visiting The Asset in his murky-water aquarium. She makes contact with the amphibian by feeding him hard-boiled eggs and playing music on her portable record player, and  quickly identifies with The Asset’s loneliness and inability to communicate. “He’s just like me,” she signs to Giles, while the audience senses an even stronger connection.
Overhearing the plan to kill and dissect The Asset for science,  Elisa hatches a scheme to whisk him away to safety. Recruiting Giles to drive the get-away vehicle and Zelda to push the laundry cart with The Asset inside, the kidnapping gets critical help at the last minute from Dr. Robert Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg) who is, in reality, a deep-cover Russian spy. “He needs to be in salt water,” the Doctor tells Elisa. “Regular table salt will do, and he’ll need this protein powder sprinkled in his water every day.”
Clutching the tin of protein powder, Elise and Giles manage to move The Asset to the safety of Elise’s bathtub. Love blooms, and the movie breaks numerous barriers after Elisa floods her bathroom with water and the pair make intimate and sensual semi-amphibious, interspecies love.
Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones rehearsed the lovemaking scenes for weeks before putting them on film. As Jones says online: “There’s an athleticism [between the pair] that’s graceful and really beautiful to watch…and sexy…they do it fearlessly.” To finish the scene, Jones continues, “We would stay standing in that embrace because it felt protective and right. It was a beautiful thing to film.”
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