Guillermo Del Toro: Monsters Among Men
By. A.D. Marrero
(Fair Warning: Spoiler Alert for Hell-boy 1 & 2, Cronos, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Blade 2.)
Guillermo Del Toro is a Mexican film director, producer, screenwriter, and novelist that has become extremely popular in the Latin countries as well as the United States. One of the many things people are drawn to is his method of storytelling. Guillermo Del Toro is known for the way he blends in the fantastic world of mythology with the horrors of our own reality. The monsters in his movies are not the ones you should be afraid of, it’s the darker side of all human’s that should keep you up at night. In almost all of Guillermo Del Toro’s movies, it is the monsters that are protecting the protagonist characters or the protagonist character is a monster and it is the choices they make that constitutes the human soul.
I’d like to start off by beginning with Guillermo Del Toro’s first movie “Cronos”. Cronos is a vampire movie done in a way that has no equal. The movie centers around a Grandfather Jesus (played by Federico Luppi) who stumbled across an ancient artifact that grants its possessor what seems to be eternal life; however, it comes with a cost. Jesus wasn’t pursuing this object but rather stumbled across it by chance. He didn’t choose the curse he was dealt with, but he did his best to protect the ones he loved. On the other side of the spectrum, we have the movie’s antagonist “The Industrialist” (played by Claudio Brook) who would kill anyone who got in his way in his search for the Cronos device. The industrialist’s life didn’t even hold the quality most people would strive to keep, he can barely keep in his bowels and lives in a cold factory. Yet, he was willing to do all he can for a few more years of life. In an interview with Guillermo Del Toro, he spoke about how the Industrialist coveted the Cronos device even though “it may give you years, but not life. The power of choice, the idea of choice is the essence of the human soul.” The industrialist who is the true monster lost his soul years ago, it is why he chose to live in the factory with decayed statues of angels wrapped in plastic that hung from hooks like bodies in a morgue. In the final scene in “Cronos,” Jesus chose to kill himself as he felt his vampiric thirst began to take control. He nearly killed his granddaughter (played by Tamara Shanath) that he spent the entire movie trying to protect. The price of eternal life was losing his soul but before that could happen he made the final choice, to die as a man rather than living as a monster. This theme carries on in a lot of Guillermo Del Toro’s movies.
Even in his more commercial movies carry the same theme. In his movie Hellboy, the antagonist is a red skinned devil-like creature with a stone hand and the antagonists is a group of Nazi’s hell-bent on casting the world in darkness. Hellboy (played by Ron Pearlman) is forced to live like a prisoner in an underground facility that he could not leave unsupervised unless the government needed him to save the day from creatures they did not understand nor can fight against. A scene with Hellboy’s sidekick Abraham (an aquatic fish-man hybrid played by Doug Jones) sums it up nicely. He is about to risk his own life in order to stop a creature from spreading and killing innocence. He asks Hellboy “Why do I do this again?” Hellboy replies “For rotten eggs and the safety of all humanity?”. These socially labeled “Monsters” are the only thing that keeps humanity safe yet because of their appearance they are forced to live in the shadows as prisoners. Even after stopping a monster from spreading Hellboy is blamed for the casualties. His boss turns to him and says “even after we’ve caught and stopped all the freaks out there. There’s one left, you.” Some people can’t see past appearances and even when people or “monsters” are trying to help them. We as people fear the worst. That being said Guillermo Del Toro used the same boss character to show that it is humans fear that make them act out. A scene where Hellboy is about to plummet to his death at the hands of the undead Nazi but, he saved by the boss that despised him. As it turns out the boss did not hate Hellboy like we originally thought but simply feared him due to Hellboy’s appearance and being the boss in charge you couldn’t show fear. It is that fear that turns humans into monsters.
I feel like Guillermo was inspired from the old movie James Whale’s “Frankenstein”. Much like the monsters in Del Toro’s films. Frankenstein (played by Boris Karloff) was misunderstood and treated like a monster simply because he didn’t look like the social idea of “normal”. Eventually, Frankenstein’s monster is killed by a mob of crazed villagers. Everyday heroes come back from war fighting the good fight to keep our freedoms intact. But when they come home with missing limbs or damaged facial features most are treated and stared at as if their monsters. A lot of the time their good deeds are hidden away by social judgments of what’s considered “normal”. These soldiers turned monsters are the result of war and it’s sad to say that a lot of them end up homeless, haunted by the nightmares of the true horrors of humanity. War is the absolute worse aspect of mankind and I believe Guillermo Del Toro uses this idea to show the true monsters within humanity.
In Guillermo Del Toro’s award-winning film “Pan’s Labyrinth” (originally titled El Laberinto Del Fauno) the plot is surrounded by the fallout of war. The rebels are fighting against the dictator that won the war. The Captain (played by Sergi Lopez) is by far the scariest monster in this movie although Guillermo Del Toro uses our fear of the unknown to make us believe that the Faun is the one out to get Ofelia (played by Ivana Baquero). The Faun (played by Doug Jones) is old, his colors are graying, and his eyes are paled white. But only at first, though out the movie we see the Fauns color return along with his strength and color in his eyes. By the end of the movie, the Faun is almost as colorful as the golden throne room. The Faun looked scary to test Ofelia. He gave her three tasks to perform but the whole time he never showed her that she should trust him. Every time she tried to question the Faun, he changed the subject, which led Ofelia and the audience to doubt his intentions. During her quest, she seemed to fail the second task when she ate two grapes on the bountiful table of the Pale man (also played by Doug Jones). Due to her actions, two fairies died but she was given one more chance to prove herself. She had to take her brother and bring him to the labyrinth. When Ophelia asked why he needed her brother again the Faun changes the subject. She accomplished bringing her brother to the Faun but to her surprise, he was holding a dagger. He claimed to only need a drop of the boy’s blood but Ofelia followed her instincts and kept the boy sheltered in her arms, at that moment the true test came into play. She was confronted by the true monster of this story, the Capitan. He held a gun up to her and demanded she gives him the child. She did not waver, she did not hesitate to do what was right. She refused and lost her life in the process. The Faun said that he wanted to make sure that Ophelia’s essence was still intact and by her choosing to do what was right over all else she proved herself. The choices she made was evidence that she was, in fact, the princess the Faun was looking for. The final scene in the movie shows that the fairies originally eaten by the Pale man were still alive implying that the worst part of the movie was really the Faun in disguise to test the princess. To follow faith blindly is foolish, you must follow what your heart tells you for true salvation.
In comparison to the monsters of Pan’s Labyrinth, we have the Capitan. A man whose vanity is only matched by his brutality. The first truly horrific scene in the movie is when the Capitan smashed in the face of an innocent man who was only trying to feed his sick family. He then shot the grieving father next to his victim only to find out that they were telling him the truth. When he found the rabbit they spoke of he did not blink or show any remorse for the innocent blood he had spilled. He does not send any condolences to the family that he knew was sick and waiting for their family members to return. He simply took the rabbit and had it prepared for himself. Throughout the movie, we would see this character groom himself. He always took the time to make sure his face was shaved, his suit was pressed and his hair was kempt. It was the fear that his appearance would match his inner self that he’d constantly try to play himself up to be a gentleman. By the end of the movie, his face reflected the monster he truly was when Mercedes (played by Maribel Verdu) sliced up the Capitan’s face. Every evil act the Capitan made was his own choice. He believed himself to be better than the typical man and not only did that lead to his death but the damnation of his soul as well.
Guillermo Del Toro’s work speaks for itself. All the characters both human and monster are reflections of human nature. We may hide behind certain aspects that display us to the world as a human, we wear clothes that make us feel distinguished, we clean ourselves to wash away the filth of each day, but it means nothing unless we choose to help others. It’s our choices that lead us to become monsters as well as heroes. Throughout history, leaders have quoted this saying “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men and women do nothing” (John F. Kennedy). Guillermo Del Toro stated something similar in his movie Hellboy which we cannot deny the same meaning, the narrator states “In the absence of light, darkness prevails.” We choose to live life the way we do. If someone chose to do evil, it is not because the devil made us do it but their own selfishness.