Being a Guillermo Del Toro fan, I sought out ‘Cronos’, his debut film; it’s a vampire tale unlike any other, and very disturbing, even by Del Toro standards. That because Del Toro places a young girl in the middle of the ‘bloody’ action, a girl who does not utter a single word till the last scene, but regards everything with child-like curiosity, and terror. It was traumatic.
I admire Del Toro, if nothing, for the simple fact that he is brimming with ideas, which are original, iconoclastic, and not necessarily pretty. In other words, you can say Del Toro is the true protégé of Luis Buñuel. Buñuel’s surrealism did not know bounds, so is Del Toro’s. But there’s a difference. While Buñuel’s dreams were rooted in the real world, despite his day-dream visionary-satirical images, Del Toro seeks out the imaginary world of magical creatures. And his magical creatures are so original that they create a genre of its own (for example, Hellboy and his friends, the faun and the fairies in Pan’s Labyrinth.) That the reason why I was one of those people waiting for the release of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit. He had the best original mind to bring Bilbo Baggins and his friends to big screen. But that was not to be so. Last reported, Del Toro had left the project, which will now be directed by The Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson.
The world of fairy tales, since the times of Hans Christian Andersen had been world of wonder, and a fearsome world. Danger lurks beneath each magic trick. When Disney took over the business of fairy tales in 20th century, the fear factor was purged completely, and the fairy tale world become a haven for children.
Del Toro refuses to follow this model. Unlike the traditional fairy tale universe, where all magical creatures look fantastic and beautiful, Del Toro creates worlds where magical being are ugly, mean and complex like their human counterparts. That’s the allure of Del Toro’s movie universe.
Cronos (1993), his directorial debut, is a vampire tale, minus the vampire himself. Like all vampire movies, Cronos too involves a choice. However, the way Del Toro lays out the action, defies the traditional vampire fiction model. Here, our protagonist, an old antique dealer, Jesús Gris, turns vampire not because he is bitten by another vampire, as the myth goes, but by a 450-year-old machine, inside which sits an insect in a clockwork. The plot works within the same moral dilemma, whether an everlasting life with a thirst for blood is better than death. As the story progresses, Jesús dies and is resurrected, with that thirst. The one man he turns to for advice, knowledge, is a rich old man, Dieter de la Guardia, who wants the vampire instrument at any cost; he is dying and he wants to live forever. A struggle ensues, and it’s not a struggle between good and evil, but greater and lesser evil.
Hence, the appearance of the little girl in a red dress, (reminds you of Don’t Look Now.) makes the film more unsettling. She is the moral voice of the plot, one who offers a choice for the protagonist — either to die, or to live forever at the expense of his granddaughter.
This struggle between two kinds of evil in a generally innocent (ignorant world) forms the crux of most of his later films — The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II, the two Hellboy films and Pan’s Labyrinth.
The Devil’s Backbone (2001) is about standing up for the truth, to make right one wrong with another. The events of the film begins much before arrival of Carlos to the orphanage — with Shanti’s death. Now, Shanti must be avenged. That’s not a choice. But there are other choices and everyone must choose, and what they choose will determine their fate. Though there is a visible ghost, The Devil’s Backbone is not a typical ghost film. The plot points deal with not what the ghost wants the children to do, but what the children are forced to do as opposed to the choices made by the adults.
In the Hellboy series, the poster featuring Hellboy (immortalised by Ron Pearlman) has to say: He’s on your side. Otherwise, it would be difficult to distinguish for whom the audience should root. Hellboy is equally ugly and obnoxious as his nemesis. At the end, the issue is resolved because he makes a choice. In the director’s commentary section of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Del Toro mentions how the only character with a definitive moral stand in the film is Prince Nuada, the villain of the piece. There we are.
In Pan’s Labyrinth, fairy tales takes a darker route. Like most fairy tales, the young heroine Ofelia is given three tasks to regain her kingdom. But the tasks are murderous, and the enemies she meets, real or imaginary, are beyond her control. At the end, here too, it comes down to a choice. Will she choose her young sibling? Another interesting thing Del Toro does with Pan’s Labyrinth is creating confusion by telling everything. At the end, we are shown that Ofelia finds her kingdom in the underworld. Is it real, or was it all Ofelia’s imagination? You are not sure because in the movie world of Guillermo Del Toro, there is no simple happy endings.
Guillermo Del Toro filmography
2001 The Devil's Backbone
2002 Blade II
2006 Hellboy: Sword of Storms; Pan's Labyrinth
2007 Hellboy: Blood and
Hellboy II: The Golden Army