This might be the first time in history a human had sex with a fish, and it actually prevented legal consequences instead of getting anyone in trouble.
According to Deadline, a copyright lawsuit brought up by the estate of Paul Zindel against Guillermo del Toro over supposed similarities between The Shape of Water and Zindel’s 1969 play Let Me Hear You Whisper has been officially dismissed by a judge. You may remember the suit came about in the lead up to the 2017 Oscars, where Shape of Water kicked all the ass and won Best Picture and Best Director statues.
Let Me Hear You Whisper involves a lonely woman who develops a relationship with a dolphin being subjected to painful lab experiments. And while their friendship may be touching and make for an emotionally rewarding story, the protagonist in Let Me Hear You Whisper does not have sex with the dolphin. As a result of this crucial difference between that story and The Shape of Water, Fox Searchlight and Del Toro don’t have to pay Zindel’s descendants a big pile of money.
Fox’s case, which the judge agreed with, states that “the works are completely dissimilar,” considering that unlike the play, Shape of Water brings forth “a decidedly adult meld of genres.” In addition, del Toro pointed out that he’s been openly and reverently discussing his influences throughout his entire quarter-century career. So if he had ripped off Let Me Hear You Whisper, it stands to reason that he would’ve been the first person to tell us all about it.
I don’t recall most people in-the-know taking the Zindel estate’s lawsuit especially seriously when it first became a news item. But having read a bit more about Let Me Hear You Whisper, I can’t really blame them for seeing Shape of Water and thinking maybe del Toro owed them a few bucks, even while I also believe del Toro when he says he had no idea the play existed.
But let this be a cautionary tale to aspiring playwrights: If you want your great-grandchildren to win intellectual copyright lawsuits against famous directors in the future, make sure there’s as much human-on-fish sexy time in your work as possible. It’s the only way to be sure.