This post contains spoilers for the film The Book Of Life. If you haven’t already, please go and watch it.
Right, still here? Okay, on with the show.
As a story there is nothing new about Jorge R. Gutierrez‘ The Book Of Life. The plot is almost a perfect analogue of Joseph Campbell’s Hero Myth, walking the viewer through this ancient, Freudian journey.
I have, over the years, been taught to shun this kind of structure, to find my own way or to simply find the truth of what it is to live from moment to moment.
I think this kind of approach to the education of how stories are told sometimes comes under criticism for its exclusion of the mainstream. Let’s try to see it another way. Really the only stories most of us are exposed to in our everyday are, by their nature, the mainstream. By the time we’ve made it as far as losing our virginity (which, let’s face it, all of these stories are about) we’ve been told the hero’s journey hundreds, possibly thousand’s of times.
None of this means that I’m not open to an old fashioned plot, well told. The Book Of Life fits into this nicely. With a single-minded art direction from someone who was in part taught by Jules Engel, the film has a unique and culturally honest look.
For the sake of this post, though, let’s zoom in to transformation/atonement section of the film.
After being challenged by the film’s main antagonist, Xibalba, our main protagonist, Manolo (a play on monohero?) is forced to fight the sum of all his fears. As you know, this fear takes the form of a giant bull made from the bones of every bull killed by our hero’s family. Does he find his fighting spirit and kill the beast?
No. He asks for its forgiveness.
I believe very strongly that we are shaped by the stories we tell each other. With cinemas and streaming services alike packed with entertainment that ends with the antagonist being killed or revenged on while whole cities are levelled around them in orgies of unseen violence, it seems to me that, simply, there must be another way.
Although the bullfighting scene in The Book Of Life is still totally in line with the plot we all know and suckle from, it represents a radical departure.
Shame the ending involves the violent end to the earthly antagonists in an orgy of violence that nearly levels the town around them.
Revisit the bullfight below.