Following Guillermo del Toro’s Best Director win at the Oscars last week, graphics creator La Botica Gráfica posted a GIF celebrating his victory on social media. Something about the Gif captivated me. A cartoon Guillermo Del Toro slowly pivots, hoisting his trophy in front of an unseen crowd. But I was charmed by the characters in the background.
Behind del Toro, a sampling of the creatures and monsters that he’s spent his career creating cheer for him. On the right stand Doug Jones’ Amphibian Man and Ron Perlman’s Hellboy, both golf-clapping politely. On the left, Trollhunters’ Blinky and AARRRGGHH!!! (I swear that’s the character’s actual name) grin and pump their fists. In the middle, the Faun and the Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth (and also both portrayed by Jones) linger ominously, stock still but for a slight smirk on the Faun’s face.
I can’t put my finger on why, but I felt overjoyed to see del Toro, a director who’s spent his career creating monsters and creatures, win Best Director. (His win was, of course, coupled with a Best Picture win for his film, The Shape of Water.)
I do find del Toro viscerally likable. Maybe it’s just the wise look behind his circular glasses, or his wide smile. Maybe it’s the fact that his collection of monstrous props, art and artifacts grew so large that it warranted a public exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2016. Del Toro just seems so utterly happy that he gets to create his outlandish, unnerving worlds and share them with all of us.
As I reflected more on what drew me to del Toro, I realized that the Best Picture nominees this year made up a sort of two-way mirror. They gazed at the same idea from slightly altered perspectives. Excluding perhaps historical pieces The Post and Darkest Hour, most of the nominees focused on (and I know this sounds cliché) what it means to be human.
Saoirse Ronan navigated high school as “Lady Bird” McPherson in Greta Gerwig’s directorial debut, pinging between extremes of rebellion and vulnerability. Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name depicted the misery of falling in (impossible) love. Still, what mainly interested me was this: While del Toro uses monsters and creatures to understand humanity, a number of other directors flipped the vector, looking at the monstrosity of humans.
Christopher Nolan’s maximalist war film Dunkirk showed the desperation of young men caught up in a monstrous war, replete with stormy gray skies and the incessant tick of a watch in Hans Zimmer’s score. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread (without giving too much away) looks at the horrifying lengths people will go to in order to wield control. Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri features an ensemble of characters who challenge viewers by alternating between horrible and heroic actions.
Jordan Peele, who won a much-deserved Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, used hyperbole to call the racism of many white liberals into relief. Peele’s allegory felt like it was in the same family as The Shape of Water, using extreme, psychopathic villains as foils for the United States racial climate.
Del Toro has openly discussed the metaphoric meanings of his latest offering. In an interview with NPR from December last year, he stated, “The movie is about connecting with ‘the other’… You know, the idea of empathy, the idea of how we do need each other to survive.” But what is it that makes del Toro’s monstrous allegories so compelling?
Delving into completely different territory, another perspective on human monstrosity and entertainment comes from last week’s finale of The Bachelor’s 22nd season. To quickly recap (major spoilers, obviously), bachelor star and tall, boring child Arie Luyendyk Jr. initially proposed to finalist and far-better person Becca Kufrin. Luyendyk then got cold feet and called off his engagement with Kufrin to try to win back runner-up Lauren Burnham.
This alone isn’t horrific. The break was incredibly painful for Kufrin, I’m sure, but people have doubts, engagements get called off, these things happen. But god, oh god, Luyendyk could not have picked a worse way to go about it.
After giving Kufrin zero warning, Luyendyk brought a camera crew into their shared home to tell her that he was calling the wedding off to try again with Burnham. During breaks in the episode, Bachelor host Chris Harrison told the audience again, and again, and again that the footage of the break-up is uncut and unedited — a television first! You may be watching someone realize that their future is suddenly being ripped away from them, but hey, at least you’re witnessing television history.
Sure, much of The Bachelor feels stunt-y and ridiculous, but the idea of filming someone being blindsided with one of their worst nightmares for reality TV ratings feels George Saunders-esque. Since the finale, there have already been a plethora of think-pieces dramatically swearing off the series.
I’m leagues away from being a misanthrope. There are overarching, structural problems that make the world we live in a profoundly unfair one, but I still think that most people you see out on the street are pretty alright and trying their best. Still, The Bachelor finale was particularly unnerving because it evidences the banality of being a terrible person. Luyendyk wasn’t stranded on a beach in the middle of a World War, or a controlling genius, or a murderer. He was just a self-absorbed jerk.
So when television shows and films hold a magnifying glass up to the terrible, hateful aspects of humanity, I find myself looking for the del Toro’s of the world, the purveyors of the magical, supernatural and uncanny. Is it escapism? Definitely, but it helps.
Shay Collins is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Morning Bowl of Surreal runs alternate Mondays this semester.