The Shape of Water Exclusive: Is Michael Shannon the film’s real monster?

Michael Shannon - The Shape of Water
Michael Shannon hunts for the amphibian man in The Shape of Water

Guillermo del Toro makes lots of movies about creatures, but they’re usually the heroes. It’s us who are the monsters. So in The Shape of Water, when scientists discover an amphibian man (Doug Jones), it’s agent Strickland (Michael Shannon) who behaves monstrously.

“I do think the creature irritates him,” Shannon said in a one on one with Monsters and Critics. “He feels threatened by the creature. Look, he doesn’t know what the creature is and I don’t think he likes that. The idea that this creature may be beyond his comprehension or could potentially even be more powerful than he is does not sit well with him.”

Set in 1962 during the red scare, Strickland embodies America at its most paranoid.

Michael Shannon and Sally Hawkins
Strickland (Michael Shannon) interrogates Elisa (Sally Hawkins) about the creature’s whereabouts

“I do think he is definitely an American persona, part of the id, no doubt about it,” Shannon said. “I will say that there are a lot of people who make their living off the misfortune of other people. That’s been going on for a long time. It’s certainly going on now and it went on back then.”

The Shape of Water does explore what made Strickland this way.

“I think Strickland over all is just a very damaged individual,” Shannon said. “I think he’s very anxious and confused and lonely.”

There is a Mrs. Strickland and two children, but he keeps his distance from them.

Michael Shannon as Strickland
The Stricklands at home

“He doesn’t have the capacity to bond with them in that way,” Shannon said. “I think mostly because I don’t think he was ever shown that warmth himself. People kind of emulate the examples that they’re given, particularly when they’re growing up. They regurgitate that.”

Strickland seems to bond more with a Cadillac he buys. It’s telling that he connects more with an inanimate object.

“I loved doing that showroom scene,” Shannon said. “That’s one of my favorite scenes in the movie. I’m glad it’s in there because it’s not plot-wise an essential scene. Guillermo has the audacity and the courage to make a movie like this that isn’t solely driven by plot. He’s willing to take the time to add details like that, because that’s what makes the movie interesting I think ultimately.”

The Shape of Water opens wide December 8. Read our review here.

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