For a movie about a woman who has a romantic relationship with a fishperson, you would think that the interspecies sex would be the most controversial thing. But instead Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water has been dogged since its release with claims of plagiarism. There was even a lawsuit filed against Guillermo del Toro by the estate of playwright Paul Zindel, claiming that the film copied elements from his 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper. Now that cloud has finally lifted, legally speaking at least, as the lawsuit has been dismissed.
Federal Judge Percy Anderson has dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice, while also saying that Guillermo del Toro and Fox Searchlight are entitled to recover the defense costs incurred according to Deadline. That would seemingly put an end to the matter that began earlier this year. After an ask for a settlement was rejected by Fox Searchlight, the estate of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, in a move clearly aimed at getting maximum publicity, filed a lawsuit on the day that Academy voters began filling out their final ballots for the major categories. The Shape of Water was up for nominations in 13 categories, ultimately emerging the victor in four of them, including Best Picture and Best Director for Guillermo del Toro.
The copyright infringement claim argued that Guillermo del Toro brazenly copied elements from Let Me Hear You Whisper, a play that tells the story of a cleaning woman at a laboratory who tries to rescue an intelligent talking dolphin from cruel experiments. Despite those surface similarities, the Fox lawyers argued that these works are entirely different because while the play is about the horrors of animal experimentation, it does not contain the love story or a mute protagonist or the god-like powers of the amphibian man. Fox's lawyers also argued the universality of these kinds of stories, citing movies like Free Willy and E.T. where scientists want to do inhumane experiments on lovable creatures. Obviously the judge agreed with these arguments, unburdening The Shape of Water from this legal cloud.
Guillermo del Toro always denied the allegations in the strongest possible terms, defending his reputation and The Shape of Water throughout the process, citing how he has historically been very open about the things that inspired his work. There was also concern earlier this year that The Shape of Water was awfully similar to a Dutch short film, but in that instance too, the works were determined to be different enough to allay concerns. I suppose that anxieties about how we treat animals are just universally rich storytelling avenues.