What makes a man? – The world of Guillermo del Toro
Recently, as my uncle Don’s early Christmas present to me, he took me to the Guillermo del Toro exhibit held at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. It lasts until January 7 for those who have yet to go.
The exhibit spans a whole wing of the gallery and, to my delight, has the atmosphere of a macabre wax museum. On display are props and models from del Toro’s movies and the works of art that are said to have inspired him. I’m not a connoisseur of art, so I can’t remember offhand the works and their creators, just the impressions they left.
Damnation, deformity, and madness are the themes of many of these works, and their influence on del Toro’s movies are obvious. But beauty is an influence as well, albeit a bizarre kind that fits in with the established aesthetic. I’m not a huge del Toro fan, but his tastes, as blatantly displayed in the exhibit, are my bread and butter.
My first del Toro movie was his adaptation of Hellboy. I wasn’t too fond of it, but it did inspire me to start reading the graphic novel, which has since become my all-time favorite. His movies are phantasmagoric in their bizarreness and darkly beautiful imagery, but as films I find most of them to be wildly inconsistent in tone.
The best example of this that I can think of, besides Hellboy, is Pacific Rim, which was always abruptly alternating between deathly seriousness and slapstick comedy, as exemplified by the scientist characters who felt like they were ripped from a completely different movie.
Shifts in tone need to be done properly, and del Toro, despite being a superbly accomplished director, can’t seem to avoid throwing so many disparate ingredients into the mix of his movies.
It’s as if he is so stoked to be making movies that he sometimes loses his better judgment and throws every batshit crazy idea he has at a single project, whether or not those ideas are right for the movie.
Still, when you watch a del Toro movie, you KNOW you’re watching a del Toro movie. The sign of a true auteur. And thankfully, his absolute best attempts are free from the faults I’ve mentioned. Pan’s Labyrinth is an inarguable masterpiece that is committed to its darkly beautiful themes of childhood innocence caught in the path of the corruption and violence wrought by adulthood.
Furthermore, even though it happened before he was born, the Spanish Civil War factors greatly into many of his movies. The war serves as either the moral and/or physical backdrop for several of his films, including The Orphanage, which del Toro wrote and produced. While The Orphanage largely takes place in modern times, its characters are allegories for the fascism and cruelty of the war and also represent the theme common to most of del Toro’s movies: the death of the soul.
When an idealistic child’s world is completely shattered by cruelty, they either grow and adapt or become ‘the living dead’, adults who are dead inside and live only to satisfy their base desires at the cost of everybody else.
General Vidal from Pan’s Labyrinth perfectly exemplifies this latter state as a man who grew from an innocent child to a refined but vicious fascist with an obsession for clocks and machinery. A man who connects better with soulless, efficient machines than he ever could with human beings.
Del Toro’s latest, The Shape of Water, is out now in limited release. A Cold War sci-fi story about a deaf woman who works in a secret government facility and falls in love with a humanoid fishman. It’s pretty safe to say that only del Toro could make a movie so innately bizarre and yet so GOOD…
Image credits: Warner Bros.