A Shape of Water fanfiction writer on why it's about more than just sex

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Mar 19, 2018

Guillermo del Toro's The Shape of Water was made for fanfiction. It's the kind of pseudo-magical storyline — flooded with wide-eyed wonder and gilded by del Toro's lengthy monster movie archive — that begs a fandom to form, sparkly romantic subplots swimming behind their eyes. Of course, that the human main character Elisa (Sally Hawkins) gets it on with Doug Jones' Amazonian river god really helps with the fervor; the fandom doesn't have to work to make the story sexual because it already is.

The internet, in case you didn't realize, likes it when things are sexy. The Shape of Water is, at its heart, a love story between two outsiders. With that love comes sex. And the internet found a new favorite pastime in talking about the sex scene, the sex scene that, technically, won an Oscar award for Best Picture. Someone made a sex toy based on the monster's, uh, fin and everyone was enamored with the idea that del Toro made the fish man's butt sexy by design.

Those who found themselves more submerged in the film than others and would consider themselves part of the Shape of Water fandom did what fandoms always do — they added to the storyline via fanfiction and other fan-made work.

SYFY WIRE spoke with Giada Bardellini, a 24-year-old Shape of Water fan from Rome, Italy, who wrote one of the most well-known Shape of Water fanfictions on Archive of Our Own (AO3), a hub for fan-created works. Her fic, "Aqua," is considered to be one of the longer fics in the fandom at nine chapters and over 16,000 words. Bardellini, who goes by Lafaiette on AO3 and on Tumblr, spent three weeks writing "Aqua," the only Shape of Water fic of the 144 she's published on AO3. Though she usually writes fanfiction about video games — Dragon Age and Mass Effect, for the most part — The Shape of Water struck a chord with her.

"There are many fics focused on their sex scene, the one that was just hinted at in the movie," Bardellini told SYFY WIRE in an email interview. "I believe it is an important element of what prompted so many fics to be written, but not the only one. The sex between Elisa and the creature is simply a way to explore something more complex: the great blessing of finding someone who truly understands and loves you and wants to spend every moment with you, even if they have to do so while slowly dying, cramped in a small bathtub."

Bardellini says that it's the movie's inherent hopefulness that she and others love so much. Elisa is terrified but she gives everything to save a being so many others deem a monster.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

"The audience and the other characters may have doubts and fears about her plan, but in the end they are rewarded with a happy ending and the knowledge that both the girl and the 'monster' can finally be happy together, in a world that doesn't hate them or ignore them," Bardellini says.

The respect the couple has for one another is their greatest strength. The sex, she says, is just a natural, positive starting element. "What follows is what drove fanfic authors to write so much about it, in my opinion." Too often, she says, young people are denied depictions of healthy, consensual relationships about "healthy love," so its normal for them "to feel connected to that element of the story and the movie in general."

As a long-time fan of del Toro's work, Bardellini says she's happy that del Toro kept working to realize his dream for this film, though she admits she didn't expect him to return so heavily to his Pan's Labyrinth roots.

"I believe happy endings are necessary, especially for grown-ups… I'm happy if ['Aqua'] receives more exposure, but I also hope it won't disappoint too many people after witnessing the magic of the movie!"