When it came time to actually shoot the film's love scene, Jones says the two had developed a delicate rapport. "Between takes, you would often see us petting each other's faces and holding hands," he says. "We held hands a lot. Just to remind each other, 'I'm here and you're here. This is comfortable. This is right.' We would say to each other, 'I love you.' 'No, I love you more.' 'But you can't love me more because I love you more.'"
It might sound strange, but that gentle intimacy imbues the film with compassion. Unlike Michael Shannon's villain Richard Strickland, who has cruel and unpleasant sex with his wife in the film, the love-making between Elisa and the fish-man is sensitive and kind. Sweet, even. As Hawkins's character filling her apartment with water so the two can float together in her bathroom, the movie takes on a poetic quality that's completely informed by the performances. The two actors entwined, one a human and one a fish-man, remains the film's most striking, evocative image.