Guillermo del Toro’s theopolitical imagination

My latest publication is an essay in the new issue of Cultural Encounters. The paper explores the work of director Guillermo del Toro—specifically, The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth—in conversation with William Cavanaugh. The basis for this interdisciplinary dialogue was an interview that del Toro gave on National Public Radio on Jan. 24, 2007, in which he discussed the way all social reality is a form of fantasy and imagination, a claim that Cavanaugh himself makes. According to del Toro,
The entire world we live in is fabricated: Republican/Democrat, left/right, morning/night, geography and borders—all these things are conceits. Borders are not visible from a satellite picture. The fact [is] that you can have a civil war where two sides kill each other, and essentially from afar they look exactly the same. They are both the same human beings. They share the same taste for food. They sing the same songs. This imagined conceit can create such horrors.
Del Toro went on, then, to argue that there are two kinds of imagination: one that creates and reinforces the horrors we encounter in the world, and another that rebels against the Establishment, as he calls it, with “a beautiful sense of anarchy.” My essay explores the way this gets fleshed out in two of his films.

By linking these ideas up with Cavanaugh, I argue more generally that, despite del Toro’s association of Christianity with the Establishment, there is a very real sense in which his films are theologically profound. He presents us with an anarchic “spiritual imagination”—analogous in a way to Cavanaugh’s “Eucharistic imagination”—that promotes a humanizing communal praxis in the midst of a disenchanted and dehumanizing world. His films confront the Christian church, in particular, with a kind of post-Christian challenge: which imagination will the church embody, one that rebels against the Establishment, or one that actively sustains it? Seen in this light, del Toro’s work demands thoughtful theological engagement.


Bruce Hamill said…
Looks very interesting David. I love Pan's Labyrinth. Unfortunately I don't get the journal being no longer part of an academic establishment. Maybe I will check out a copy from some of my faculty friends