The Shape of Water is in deep water. The son of a well-known playwright has reportedly filed a civil suit claiming that the 13 Academy Awards nominee is a rip-off of his dad’s 1969 play, Let Me Hear You Whisper. The Shape of Water stars the Blue Jasmine actress Sally Hawkins as a lonely-mute janitor in 1960s Baltimore. She works at a top-secret research facility and forms a unique relationship with an amphibious creature there, who is in captivity for government research.
The Shape of Water is one of the frontrunners for Best Film at next month’s Academy Awards. However, the storyline has striking similarities to Paul Zindel’s Let Me Hear You Whisper. The play is about a cleaning woman who forms a unique bond with a dolphin who is being held at a research laboratory for experiments during the height of the Cold War. According to the suit, in the original play, the janitor hatches a plot to kidnap the dolphin in a laundry cart and release it into a river after learning that the dolphin is going to be dissected. Similarly, in The Shape of Water, the mute cleaning girl hatches a plot to kidnap the Amazonian river monster to spare it from death.
“We are shocked that a major studio could make a film so obviously derived from my late father’s work without anyone recognising it and coming to us for the rights,” the playwright’s son, David Zindel, told the Guardian.
In both the stories, scientists use electrodes to incite reactions to study the creature’s advanced abilities for military applications. Both works use a motif of a “romantic vintage song playing on a record player inside the laboratory”, the suit says. Both women also share their lunches with the creature, dance with a mop to flirt with the animal and try to rescue it in the end. Both the cleaners use a laundry cart in their rescue plans to release the creature to the sea.
The suit was filed in US District Court by attorney Marc Toberoff. Zindel has accused Fox Searchlight, director Guillermo del Toro and The Shape of Water producer, Daniel Kraus, of copyright infringement in the civil case less than two weeks before the Academy Awards on 4th March. Quite expectedly, the studio has vehemently denied the claim. “These claims from Mr. Zindel’s estate are baseless, wholly without merit, and we will be filing a motion to dismiss,” a Fox Searchlight spokesman said.
Fox Searchlight also insists that Guillermo del Toro has never read or seen Let Me Hear You Whisper. “Furthermore, the estate’s complaint seems timed to coincide with the Academy Award voting cycle in order to pressure our studio to quickly settle. Instead, we will vigorously defend ourselves and, by extension, this groundbreaking and original film,” the spokesperson added.
According to a Deadline report, del Toro too put his own reputation as the best evidence and said, “I have been at this 25 years and have an unimpeachable reputation. I have always made it an element of my career to talk about my influences in every single movie I have made, in the comment track of DVDs, on Twitter, in my museum exhibitions. I have been open about the things I love, and I have had no problem discussing them and how they were transformational in my movies. This 25-year trajectory should come in handy. I have written or co-written about 24 screenplays. I am a writer/director who has generated TV series, books, movies and an enormous amount of screenplays through the years. Without a single complaint.”