The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro

Dodano: 8 October 2016

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Mexican director, producer, screenwriter and writer Guillermo del Toro is known for utilization of supernatural elements in his movies. In his works he often treads a fine line between real and mystical. From Cronos to Crimson Peak del Toro widely opposes the brutality of the rational word to the promise or danger of something that lies beyond the scope of human mind. His interpretation of the conflict between rationality and irrationality is far from simplification as well as it is deeply rooted in personal experience of Del Toro.

The Supernatural Cinema of Guilermo del Toro edited by John W. Morehead is the collection of scholarly and popular articles dealing with various aspects of the director’s cinema. Authors analyse themes recurring in the works of the Mexican director, tracing their mythological as well as cultural roots. Through an in-depth look at the del Toro’s biography and his extensive cultural background authors of essays gathered in the volume aim at understanding the man and his art.

Essays collected in the volume focus on themes present in more than one of del Toro’s movies, all of them strongly interconnected. One of the most interesting subjects of his works is the Spanish Civil War that seems to set an interesting ground for more mystical tales of adolescence. Del Toro seems to be interested in childhood and child’s perception of the world often at odds with adult experience and need for power and domination. Finally, Guilermo del Toro is fascinated with monsters, as actual creatures and an ideological concept. The figure of a Monster enables him to speak about otherness and emotions it causes. Apart from these predominant themes, del Toro’s fascination in Howard Phillips Lovecraft writing is discussed as well as his approach to the classical facet of a vampire myth.

Ann Davies’ and Karin Brown’s essays explore the heritage of the Spanish Civil War in Guillermo del Toro movies. By dealing with a historically and geographically remote conflict del Toro is free to play with more symbolic or universal aspects of war. In the Devil’s Backbone he shows a morally meaningful contrast between violent Franco’s regime and innocent children of an orphanage, survivors of the military conflict. In Pan’s Labirynth, through the figure of adolescent Ophelia, he discusses complexities of a society torn apart as well as mental escape of a sensitive person from the atrocities of war. Ophelia, balancing on the verge of childhood and adult age, coping with her mother marrying a regime’s officer and bearing his baby, easily accepts a risky challenge from a faun who announces her a princess of the underground kingdom. She dies when trying to accomplish the third and final of the tasks assigned and yet is not defeated – she is transferred to her kingdom’s throne, suddenly liberated from the burden of her hostile home. It is not hard to see that the historical context of the Spanish Civil War serves as a pretext to discuss axiological and psychological aspects of war in general.

Guilermo del Toro’s fascination with monsters is thoroughly explored in the volume. Del Toro’s monsters are human-like, not in their form, but in their ethos. They are imperfect yet striving to overcome their limitations. They reflect on their actions. They make choices, as in the case of Hellboy, on moral grounds and act good even when it is difficult for them. They become more mature along their way. In other words they are more human than lazy, indifferent humans. They experience all of the tensions, internal conflicts and dramas that had been the ancient topic of art or mythology, as observed by Sidney L. Sondergard. Who are we, the humans then, the ones, who often forget basic ethics? Are we not monsters more then they are? This is actually the main theme of cultural anthropology pictured in a symbolic way. Who is normal and who is strange? Who sets the standard?

On the other hand the issue of nature versus nurture it touched. If an offspring has never received any moral guidance, are they to any extent responsible for their actions? Can they even be assessed by ethical criteria? Or are their actions prompted by pure instinct? These problems are aptly discussed by John Kenneth Muir, who, in his essay, juxtaposes del Toro’s othered children with Frankenstein monster as portrayed by Boris Karloff in the Thirties.

Children in Del Toro’s movies are the bridge between the morally hazardous world of (adult) humans and the intuitive, naturally good world of the paranormal. They have the trust and unique perceptive powers that allow them to see more and get in touch with fantastic creatures. The paranormal element, that invades human world and apparently disrupt its order, actually reinstates the right values. This unique perspective on children abilities to go beyond the pure rationality is interestingly discussed by Alexandra West and also mentioned in other essays collected in The Supernatural Cinema of Guilermo del Toro.

The figure of Hellboy serves as a bridge between worlds as well, even though the value of the worlds has shifted places. In this case the adult human is kind and gentle and the child has direct connection to the source of evil. The final effect is the same though. As John Kenneth Muir suggests the power of good wins, liberating Hellboy from his fate and giving priority to nurture over nature.

Apart from the aforementioned themes that are most often discussed in the essays collected in the review volume, reading of The Supernatural Cinema of Guilermo del Toro sheds a light on del Toro’s literary influences. S. T. Joshi and Kevin J. Wetmore Jr. trace elements of Howard Philips Lovecraft stories in del Toro’s movies. Joshi’s article also focuses on a religious aspect of the Mexican director’s works. Gabriel Eljaiek-Rodríguez connects del Toro’s transfiguration of vampire myth done in Cronos with the director’s reading of Horatio Quiroga’s story The Feather Pillow. Guilermo del Toro’s movie is read by Eljaiek-Rodríguez as a metaphor of colonization of Latin America by European Conquerors sucking the vital forces of subdued continent.

The Supernatural Cinema of Guilermo del Toro is an interesting collection of essays devoted to an in-depth analysis of the Mexican director’s works. Authors of essays included in the volume present diverging views on Guilermo del Toro’s work, showing plethora of possible interpretations of his cinematic stories. Del Toro’s movies evade easy explanations and that is why such volumes are necessary to understand the works of this prolific artist.


The author of the review is Wojciech Lewandowski PhD – researcher focusing on political and social problems in popular culture (graphic novels and comic books, progressive rock and horror literature), working at the Institute of European Studies, University of Warsaw. He is also co-founder and coordinator of British Socio-Political Studies Research Group BRITANNIA and guest lecturer at American Studies Center, University of Warsaw. He runs a pop culture blog Gitarą Rysowane.

We would like to thank McFarland & Company for a copy for review.


The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro

Editor: McFarland & Company

Publisher: McFarland & Company

Publication year: 2015

207 pages

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