In almost every single film Guillermo del Toro’s made, the director creates vivid, imaginative, unforgettable creatures. He also famously writes long, elaborate backstories for all of his characters, whether they ends up on screen or not. So, in The Shape of Water, you’d assume del Toro crafted the ultimate backstory for arguably his most important creature ever.
You’d assume wrong.
In The Shape of Water, del Toro’s creature, credited as “Amphibian Man” but never named, is introduced having been captured by military man Strickland (Michael Shannon). We’re told throughout the course of the movie the creature was captured in the Amazon, the people there worshiped him, and Strickland took him because he believed there was something to be learned from this creature that would help America win the Cold War against Russia.
Ultimately, the film answers a few of these questions but there are so many more. If the creature was in the Amazon, where did he come from? Was he actually a God? What abilities does he have? Are there more of him? The list goes on and on.
Surprisingly, though, del Toro told io9 what we see in the movie is what you get with this creature—there is no larger backstory.
“I write eight-page biographies for most of the characters in the movies,” del Toro said. “I give them to the actors. But my story for the creature is in the movie.”
Here’s that whole story, according to the director, for the record:
It is a river God. It’s not an animal. It’s a river God in the Amazon. There was never another one. There was him and Sally Hawkins put on Earth, and their entire existence they were going to each other. And they didn’t know. She was found in a river. No body knows who her parents were. She has these markings since she was a baby. He was in the river. The natives gave flowers. An American company came to drill oil. They killed the natives, saw the creature and said ‘Let’s cage it and take it out.’ That’s the story. And he’s been alone all of his life.
Associate producer Daniel Kraus, who co-wrote the novel and gave del Toro the idea for the film, agrees wth keeping Amphibious Man’s origin unanswered.
“The creature largely remains an enigma,” he said. “And I think Guillermo and I were fairly simpatico with that. Pretty copacetic in our ideas in that the creature be allowed to represent different things to different people.”
Even Doug Jones, the actor who plays the creature, said del Toro only told him to “stand majestically” because the character was worshiped as a god. But that’s all.
So in the end, if you were hoping there was some huge, mysterious backstory for the creature, too bad. But to be fair, the creature’s mysterious nature isn’t the point of The Shape of Water. The point is the emotional journey it and Elisa go on together.
The Shape of Water is now in theaters.