Morehead, John W., Ed. the Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays

By Reyes, Jaime R. Brenes | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Fall 2016 | Go to article overview

Morehead, John W., Ed. the Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays


Reyes, Jaime R. Brenes, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Morehead, John W., ed. The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro: Critical Essays. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015. 216 pp. Softcover. ISBN 978-07864-9595- 5. $35.00.

John W. Morehead's collection of critical essays presents a wide array of views on the works of Mexican-Spanish film director Guillermo del Toro. From essays that analyze del Toro's cinematic oeuvre in terms of his life to studies on the influence of Lovecraft on del Toro's work to Nietzschean interpretations of Pan's Labyrinth, the contributors fill a gap in current scholarship regarding, as Morehead puts it, "one of the most prolific artists at present" (7). It is remarkable that the editor has been able to assemble such collection from people in both academia and the film industry. Hence, even though some of the essays do not read like typical scholarly journals articles because of their atypical structure and tone, they add an important component to understanding del Toro's work.

The collection opens with a moving Foreword by actor Doug Jones, in which he relates the personal impact of playing so many significant characters in del Toro's films--including his role as the Fauno in Pan's Labyrinth. The volume then presents eleven essays, from which four main themes emerge regarding del Toro's cinematic work: his Catholic upbringing, the recuperation of historical memory as fundamental in his films' scripts, the relationship between his films and Greek mythology, and the importance of his financial and production challenges to the movie studios.

Beginning with del Toro's family background and the recuperation of historical memory, many of the authors refer to his upbringing in Mexico and ways in which his childhood may have influenced his films. In her essay "The Child Transformed by Monsters: The Monstrous Beauty of Childhood Trauma," Jessica Balanzategui makes the case for childhood trauma as a crucial element affecting how del Toro's films are produced as well as understood. Citing interviews and del Toro's own statements, Balanzategui sees "traumatic childhood" as "a fertile source of inspiration and creative vitality for his films" (76). Although the author does not refer to specific traumas in the director's life, she cites del Toro's statement that films such as Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone "are based on things that happened to me" (77). These are experiences that the director is able to transform and present to the viewer in a way that connects and creates empathy. Whereas fantasy is often viewed as a way to escape from reality, Balanzategui argues that, with del Toro, fantasy becomes "a powerful way to face trauma's affront to normality and coherent meaning" (77). This is evident, for example, in Pan's Labyrinth: the realities of the Spanish Civil War come into the narrative via apparitions that appear to the protagonist Ofelia, a pre-teen girl. Fantasy manifests as an ability that children can use to cope with a reality that does not always make sense. For Balanzategui, del Toro is able to use "his own childhood traumas and the power of such trauma to spark new ways of perceiving reality which stand in contrast to rigid, accepted--adult--structures of meaning" (90).

The ability of children to connect and use fantasy to deal with reality also appears in the essay "Where the Wild Things Are: Monsters and Children," in which Alexandra West argues that fantasy "offers filmmakers the opportunity to ask questions surrounding the nature of humanity and of the world we live in" (130). West focuses on how the monster, in its relationship with the child, can be both a friend and an enemy, and notes that, "del Toro's films often show that the monsters are not truly monstrous, humans are" (138-9). West concludes by stating, "del Toro is a true storyteller ... because he understands the power of stories" (144). In both Balanzategui and West, there is a resonance between del Toro's own experiences and historical memory. …

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