Sunday, 1 November 2009

Personal Project Extract

I have, for the past year, being working on a personal project exploring traces and evidences of the Uncanny within the work of Guillermo del Toro. As personal research, this has fed directly into the writing of the forthcoming Study Guide on The Devil's Backbone as well as generating three potential texts for publication. What follows is a very rough draft from the conclusion of one of these essays, concerning the uncanny interrelationship between The Devil's Backbone and Pan's Labyrinth.

"Inherently integrated into all these elements is the possibility of the uncanny. Because del Toro works consistently within the genres of horror and fantasy – genres that specifically attempt to generate the uncanny feelings of fear and dread – it is perhaps very easy to suggest that the uncanny is indeed a more subtle but overarching auteuristic trait. Yet such a conclusion seems arbitrary and clumsy. A more focussed analysis would, of course, prove this either way, but for the purposes of this conclusion it is worth noting that the uncanny elements embodied by Jacinto and Carmen reverberate throughout del Toro’s oeuvre: this is most explicitly seen in Pan’s Labyrinth, a sequel of sorts to The Devil’s Backbone: in many respects the two films are uncannily related because they double themselves (almost to the point of déjà vu, of being a copy of each other) and bear similarity in character. Carmen, from The Devil’s Backbone, not only has her name doubled in Pan’s Labyrinth but also her castrating quality is echoed in Pan’s Labyrinth's Mercedes as she also emerges from her narrative as an uncanny woman: victimised and then nearly tortured by antagonist Captain Vidal, Mercedes assaults him with a paring knife, not only repeatedly stabbing him but inserting it into his mouth and slicing open his cheek. This injury, like the one Carmen inflicted upon Jacinto, is not only a physical attack but also a castrating assault upon Vidal’s beauty and sense of masculinity. Throughout the film he is seen to be continually preening himself, forever looking clean, smart and in control. This appearance becomes a physical manifestation of his anger, violence, and power over the narrative’s other characters and so embodies a perversely ugly image of masculinity. Moments before Mercedes slices open his cheek, he verbalises this power by telling his officers to leave him and Mercedes alone. When questioned, Vidal spits out “For God sake, she is only a woman”. As he speaks, Mercedes draws her knife (a phallic weapon that mirrors Carmen’s equally phallic walking cane), ready to attack.

It seems logical that if Carmen is reflected in Mercedes, then Jacinto should be reflected in Vidal. As already stated, Vidal, like Jacinto, presents an image of masculinity that is, on the surface, attractive yet that very same masculinity is vile and thoroughly evil within that same person. Whilst Jacinto and Vidal share this quality, they also share a similar preoccupation with their past and in particular their childhoods: whilst Jacinto wants to destroy his past, Vidal is desperately trying to live up to his: throughout the film he is seen to be examing the watch his father held at the moment of his death. It preoccupies him, torments him, setting itself as a standard to be achieved. In his final moments, when faced by a group of armed Republicans, Vidal takes out his own pocket watch and crushes it, doubling his father’s actions at the moment of his own immanent death."

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