Guillermo del Toro: A Brief Retrospective

When considering Guillermo Del Toro’s work, mythical creatures, terrifying monsters, and of getting lost in a wonderful world of his creation for a couple of hours seem typical statements of his work. So when I saw the trailer for his new piece Pacific Rim, I couldn’t help but think that it was a little out of keeping with his style of storytelling. If we look back over some of his most influential and successful works however, and make a point of looking past his distinctive stylistic vision and storytelling technique, it soon becomes evident that, thematically, Pacific Rim is simply an extension of an ever present subject matter. In each of his works, Del Toro questions what it means to be human, the tolerability of immortality, and the causes of monstrosity. Questions which, judging by the trailers, will be at the forefront of his latest offering. In preparation for the release of this action packed instalment on July 12th, we look back over some of his pervious works, and follow his thematic journey through cinema.

Del Toro’s 1993 offering, Cronos, is a constant blur between the line of humanity and immortality, with the essential mythical monster thrown in for good measure. It questions when, if ever, is immortality the answer? If you had the choice between a normal life of aging then death, dying of a terminal illness, or immortality with a number unknown side effects and restrictions, what would you choose? The story focuses in on the protagonist, Jesus, and what his state of being is. He remains convinced throughout that he is in control of his actions, particularly his use of the Cronos device. A device which prolongs the user’s life, making them feel, and even appear more youthful, but at the price of becoming slave to its use. Even after his death, and resurrection, Jesus remains convinced of his humanity. It takes the slow realisation that his new lifestyle of nocturnalism, blood draining, and consumption, is in fact completely inhuman, for him to become aware of his current state. His personal battle with what it means to be human (love, family, freedom) brings about his demise. Upon the realisation that he can no longer experience these simple pleasures, and in turn, can no longer be called human, he sacrifices himself, and consequently, saves his daughter from death. His last act of compassion and humanity.

2004’s Hellboy, and 2008’s Hellboy II pose similar questions about humanity, immortality, and monstrosity, again questioning when, if ever, is immortality the answer? And what defines a character as monstrous? In these films however, Del Toro explores these questions from the point of view of what would traditionally be labelled as monsters, changing the expectations of his audience, and forcing us to examine the possibility that often we, as humans, are the monsters. Following the story of Hellboy (literally a creature from Hell found on earth), we see how this ‘monster’ works with both humans and other fantastical creatures in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence, in order to keep the world, and in particular the human race, safe from members of the occult. In both films, humans are at the source of all the problems, as they attempt to gain more power, achieve immortality, and rule the world and all its races for all eternity. In these films, Del Toro proves it is possible to be human without being humane. Monsters can come in all shapes and sizes, but it is often those who seem the least monstrous that prove to be the most nefarious.

 

In 2006, Del Toro brought us the world of Pan’s Labyrinth. A visually striking film filled with fairies, fauns and fantasy. The piece is set between two contrasting worlds. The world we know, and the world of Princess Moanna. Princess of the underworld. Set during post Civil War Spain, we are instantly given cause to question what it means to be human, as we witness the emotionless Falange Soldiers, in particular Captain Vidal, kill, maim, and torture for both information and entertainment. How can these beings be called human when they treat others with such disdain? How can one inflict so much physical and mental pain upon others without causing suffering to themselves? This is truly the behaviour of a monster. However, monstrous traits are also displayed by the mythical creatures of the film. The faun, who appears initially as a guide and mentor, abandons the protagonist, Ofelia, when she fails to carry out her assigned task to the letter, and even attempts to convince Ofelia to sacrifice her baby brother. Hardly the behaviour of the righteous. Del Toro demonstrates how circumstance can play a huge part in behaviour patterns. Cause and consequence. Beings react to their situations and the way those around them react. Had there been no civil war, perhaps the soldiers would not have become such violent beasts. Had Ofelia not angered the faun, she may not have suffered in solitude. Monsters do not simply come into being, they are created by circumstance. A creature is not a monster for having horns and hoofs, but for using them to inflict pain on others.

So what can we expect from Pacific Rim? Evidently, plenty of strong men, big machines and battle scenes, but what of the story behind the visuals. The trailer itself states “In order to fight monsters, we created monsters of our own”. I am confident that Del Toro will present us with many more interpretations of what defines humanity, monstrosity, and immortality, and prove that he can work with any genre of film, and make it his own.

 

 

Jenni Wright

 

Pacific Rim is now showing at the Grosvenor Cinema. Click here to book your tickets.

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