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Elisa Esposito is the main protagonist in the 2017 science fiction romance film The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro.

She's a mute janitor at a secret research facility and also falls in love with a captured amphibian creature named the Asset. She was played by Sally Hawkins.

Her Story

Elisa Esposito, who was found in a river as an orphaned child with wounds on her neck, is mute, and communicates through sign language. She lives alone in an apartment above a cinema and works as a cleaning woman at a secret government laboratory in Baltimore at the height of the Cold War.

Her friends are her closeted next-door neighbor Giles, a struggling advertising illustrator who shares a strong bond with her and her African-American co-worker Zelda, a woman who also serves as her interpreter at work.

The facility receives a mysterious creature captured from a South American river by Colonel Richard Strickland who is in charge of the project to study it. Curious about the creature, Elisa discovers that it is a humanoid amphibian. She begins visiting him in secret and the two form a close bond.

Seeking to exploit the creature to American advantage in the Space Race, General Frank Hoyt orders Strickland to vivisect it.

One scientist, Robert Hoffstetler—who is in truth a Soviet spy named Dimitri Mosenkov—pleads unsuccessfully to keep the creature alive for further study and, at the same time, is ordered by his Soviet handlers to euthanize the creature. When Elisa learns of the Americans' plans for the creature, she persuades Giles to help her free him. Mosenkov discovers Elisa's plot and chooses to help her.

Though initially reluctant, Zelda becomes involved in the escape, and it is successful.

Elisa keeps the creature in her bathtub, adding salt to the water to keep him alive. She plans to release the creature into a nearby canal when it will be opened to the ocean in several days' time.

As part of his efforts to recover the creature, Strickland interrogates Elisa and Zelda, but the failure of his advances toward Elisa hampers his judgment, and he dismisses them.

Back at the apartment, Giles discovers the creature devouring one of his cats, Pandora. Startled, the creature slashes Giles's arm and rushes out of the apartment. The creature gets as far as the cinema downstairs before Elisa finds him and returns him to her apartment.

The creature touches Giles on his balding head and his wounded arm; the next morning, Giles discovers his hair has begun growing back and the wounds on his arm have healed.

Elisa and the creature soon become romantically involved, having sex in her bathroom which she at one point fills completely with water.

Hoyt gives Strickland an ultimatum, asking him to recover the creature within 36 hours. Meanwhile, Mosenkov is told by his handlers that he will be extracted in two days.

As the planned release date approaches, the creature's health starts deteriorating. Mosenkov leaves to rendezvous with his handlers, with Strickland tailing him. At the rendezvous, Mosenkov is shot by one of his handlers, but Strickland shoots the handlers dead and then tortures Mosenkov for information.

Mosenkov implicates Elisa and Zelda before dying from his wounds. Strickland then threatens Zelda in her home, causing her terrified husband to reveal that Elisa had been keeping the creature.

Strickland searches Elisa's apartment and finds a calendar note revealing when and where she plans to release him.

At the canal, Elisa and Giles bid farewell to the creature, but Strickland arrives and attacks them all. Strickland knocks Giles down and shoots the creature and Elisa, who both appear to die.

However, the creature heals himself and slashes Strickland's throat, killing him. As police arrive on the scene with Zelda, the creature takes Elisa and jumps into the canal where, deep under water, he heals her.

When he applies his healing touch to the scars on her neck, they open to reveal gills like his.

In a closing voice-over narration, Giles conveys his belief that Elisa lived "happily ever after" with the creature.

Trivia

  • She's very similar to Belle from Beauty and the Beast : both are in love with monster, both live in a small town, both stand up to the main antagonist and both end up with their true love. The only difference between her and Belle is that Elisa is mute while Belle talks.
  • She's also similar to Ann Darrow, Naomi Watts' character from the 2005 movie King Kong. They are both in love with a being who is a reimagining of a classic movie monster (King Kong, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon). They both have trouble speaking to other people (Ann because she's shy, Elisa because she's mute). They are both pawns of a manipulative man they work for (Carl Denhman and Richard Strickland). Both of their romances end in tragedy (Kong dies, while Elisa is implied to die).
  • Sally Hawkins' performance garnered widespread critical acclaim and earned her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
  • Director Guillermo del Toro said about Sally Hawkins, "Not only was she the first choice, she was the only choice. I wrote the movie for Sally, I wrote the movie for Michael [Shannon]... Sally is- I wanted the character of Elisa to be beautiful, in her own way, not in a way that is like a perfume commercial kind of way. That you could believe that this character, this woman would be sitting next to you on the bus. But at the same time she would have a luminosity, a beauty, almost magical, ethereal."
  • One day after completing her demanding underwater scenes for this film, Sally Hawkins flew to London to begin production on Paddington 2 (2017) - only to find out she would have to shoot underwater scenes for that film on the first day.
  • The protagonist wears more and more red as the film progresses.
  • Sally Hawkins researched Charles Chaplin, Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, Buster Keaton and Audrey Hepburn for her part. Director Guillermo del Toro even bought her a Blu-ray collection featuring the performers prior to filming.
  • Elisa was left as a foundling baby by a river, is mute like the Asset, prefers to express her sexuality in water, and lives in a home with scale-print wallpaper. All these point to the fact that the marks on her neck were never scars, but are undeveloped gills, suggesting that she is descended from someone like the Asset.
  • The dance scene between the creature and Elisa is an homage to a dance scene between Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Follow the Fleet (1936). The unusual set piece is the same as the one seen when Fred sings "Let's Face the Music and Dance".
  • When she was offered the lead role in this film, Sally Hawkins herself was working on a script for a short film about a woman who turns into a fish.

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