The “Book of Life” is dark – literally and figuratively. Well, it is at first. The heavy subject matter didn’t seem to lend itself to a children’s movie, but the vibrant colours associated with Mexican culture disguised the fact that this movie was basically about a wager between two spirits who rule two “lands” of the dead.
I was about ten minutes into the movie before I realized what was wrong. I thought there might have been a problem with low voltage in the theatre, but when I saw my daughter wiping her 3D glasses, I realized that it wasn’t just me who thought that things were a little overcast.
The movie is based on the Mexican celebration of “Day of the Dead”, which takes place every year at the end of October or the beginning of November. It is a day when people remember their loved ones who have gone on before them, so they build altars to them in their homes, clean and visit their graves, sometimes leaving their favourite items.
Visiting and cleaning graves (usually around Easter time) is a practice that I grew up with and which probably took place more in our village cemeteries than in the main cemetery on the outskirts of town. The movie probably got it right when they showed figments of the dead standing right next to their burial places, watching their devoted loved ones hard at work.
Here’s my only problem with the movie. I understand the main premise that we should never forget the ones who pass away because when we do, it’s as if they never existed. And which one of us wants to be forgotten? But the only thing resembling hell (or someplace to get one’s just due) in the movie, was The Land of the Forgotten which as previously mentioned, you ended up in if your people didn’t think about you anymore.
So it appears that even if you weren’t the best specimen of humanity but your relatives still bore you in mind, you could be up there in perpetual Mardi Gras. Which, might I add in the movie, looked a whole lot livelier than where we are now? It seemed to just be one big party – it was much more colourful, everyone seemed to get along really well, and there was food galore.
So when Manolo, voiced by Diego Luna ends up in The Land of the Remembered after being twice-bitten by a snake, he is able to see his mother and his other relatives who got there before him. All of them. Even the ones who “killed the bull” and the one who wouldn’t stop singing. But I understand him wanting to go back on the other side of the curtain to be with Maria (Zoe Saldana), since he never got his chance to write his story with her.
That’s pretty much the take-away from the movie. There were many other side stories including bravery, trickery and friendship – but since everything we do forms a part of the story that is our life, we should probably choose carefully what we put into the narrative. All our stories won’t be best-sellers, but hopefully they’ll make for some good reading.