The Shape of Water has been a huge award winner and it's a serious contender for this year's Academy Awards. It's also the source of yet another plagiarism claim from people who believe Guillermo del Toro stole the idea for the film. The estate of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Zindel believes that The Shape of Water was "obviously derived" from the 1969 play Let me Hear You Whisper.
Fox Searchlight vigorously defends Guillermo del Toro and claims the writer and director of The Shape of Water has never read nor seen the play in question, but according to The Guardian, the similarities between the two stories have been remarked on by people familiar with both, and now the family of the playwright has weighed in on the discussion. They seem to have little doubt that the film took its premise from the play. There's no specific mention of plans to take legal action against The Shape of Water, though if the Paul Zindel estate is certain the idea was taken without credit, that would seem to be the next logical step.
The play in question does have numerous similarities to The Shape of Water. In both stories, the main character is a janitor in a government facility that is experimenting on an aquatic creature. The two make some sort of connection and the woman attempts to rescue the creature. However, there are a couple of significant differences as well, including that in the play in question, the creature is actually a dolphin, not a humanoid. The main character is also not mute in the play and doesn't have a best friend analog to the part played by Richard Jenkins in The Shape of Water.
What's interesting is that this isn't the first time that The Shape of Water has been accused of lifting its premise. Earlier this week, the Netherlands Film Academy cleared the film of accusations it had taken its idea from Marc S. Nollkaemper's short film The Space Between Us. It's unclear if the short film was ever accused of taking its idea from the play.
Of course, the fact that The Shape of Water has now been accused of stealing an idea from two totally different sources could help show that's totally possible for multiple people to come up with the same idea independently. This is why one of the necessary aspects of any proof of plagiarism is proving that the accused writer was exposed to the original work. If that can't be proven, then there's no way to be sure that a similar idea didn't occur to more than one writer at different times.
We'll have to wait and see if this actually becomes a legal issue or just an upset family. That question could turn on just how big The Shape of Water becomes. If it ends up winning any of the multiple Oscars that it is nominated for, that could translate to a lot of money that the estate of Paul Zindel may feel they are entitled to,