Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Fantastic Faith of Guillermo del Toro

USA Today has an article on director Guillermo del Toro about his upcoming film, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. While del Toro is best known to American audiences for such action movies as Hellboy and Blade II, he also directed the Spanish language film, Pan’s Labyrinth. To those of you who have not heard of this film or who might have been put off by the fact that it is in Spanish, Pan’s Labyrinth is probably the most religiously profound film to have come out in recent years. In certain respects it did a better job at channeling C. S. Lewis than even the recent Narnia films.

Del Toro seems to have a complicated relationship to religion. He was raised by a grandmother who was a deeply religious Catholic and rebelled against it. That being said his films have a deeply religious side to them as if they are attempts by del Toro to come to terms with his own faith or even to salvage it. In explaining the nature of his work, del Toro comments that: "The fantastic is the only tool we have nowadays to explain spirituality to a generation that refuses to believe in dogma or religion. Superhero movies create a kind of mythology. Creature movies, horror movies, create at least a belief in something beyond."

This should serve as a heads up to those who would diminish fantasy and fail to understand its importance to religion today. We do not live in a world in which one can demand belief, certainly not by mere authority. Fantasy is a useful spiritual outlet precisely because it does not demand belief; one is free to take it as it is, as a mere piece of fiction, to do with as one wills. Though, as Harry Potter demonstrated, such mere fiction has the ability to radically alter people’s lives, by awakening a longing for something outside of themselves. No religion can survive on authority alone. The Bible is meaningless simply as the word of a god, who will throw you in a lake of fire if you do not believe in him and his book. As a book which one is free to take nourishment as one wills, the Bible can sustain like no other. Yes, even more so than Harry Potter.

I look forward to seeing del Toro’s future projects, particularly his adaption of the Hobbit, which is slated to come out in 2011.


Andrew said...

I know it's been a long time since you wrote this article, but I bumped into it because I am a huge del Toro fan.

When you were writing I couldn't help but think about Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. Even Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra" often uses bizarre imagery to promote a non-religious message. It seems to me that fantasy is just as able to point to a non-religious spirituality as a religious one and that allows these kinds of works to have a more universal appeal.

Izgad said...

I am a big fan of both Pullman and Nietzsche. (The fact that I refer to Pullman in the same sentence as Nietzsche should give you an idea of where I think His Dark Materials will and should come to stand in the canon of the great books of Western Literature.) I would compare Pullman to George Lucas in that he created a work of genius that he himself failed to properly appreciate out of his inability to appreciate the source material he worked with. Pullman is so caught up with turning Paradise Lost on its head that he misses the beauty of Paradise Lost and the religious vision underlying it. If Spinoza is, as I have often heard him described, the sort of theist that even an atheist could love Nietzsche is the sort of atheist that even a theist could love. Nietzsche was someone enraptured with the Old Testament and Greek mythology. I find his work to be remarkable spiritual experiences. My personal theory is that Nietzsche really was a theist, who rejected all religion because no religion could encapsulate the God he believed in. Rather than allow his God to be besmirched by the association with a religion he denied all gods. The gods of all religions were false so there are no gods because all gods taught by religions fail to capture the essence of the true God he believed in.

Andrew said...

I'm impressed. When I left a comment on an old blog entry I had every expectation that I would be ignored. As it is, I must say that I find myself agreeing with a great deal of what you have written in response to me. However, that makes me all the more inclined to let you know about the one thing I disagreed with:

Rather than allow his God to be besmirched by the association with a religion he denied all gods.

It seems to me that Nietzsche saw things the other way around from that. He believed that religion had moved beyond the concept of a God. He felt that the concept of a God inevitably undermined his religious insight, so he rejected all gods. Of course, he fully admits that gods might come in handy in the future. Essentially his main issue was with what he referred to as 'Christian monotonotheism'; the understanding of God which has become so prevalent that it makes spirituality stagnant rather than allowing us to fully embrace the ever-changing nature of existence.