Wednesday, October 14, 2015

GDT Week: Big Red and the mystical unknowns


While watching Hellboy, Guillermo del Toro's 2004 adaptation of the Mike Mignola comic series, my wife noticed that Prof. Broom kept his rosary wrapped around his wrist. At another point, she noticed Abe Sapien doing the same with a reliquary.

Why, she asked, would he wear it around his wrist (and, as a devout Catholic, why is he putting so much stock in a tarot deck), and why would Abe not just put his around his neck, especially since he is about to dive under water.

Good questions. I had a good explanation for one of them: if Abe wore his around his neck, it could get sucked up into his gills and damage his breathing. It makes sense to me. As for the other question, I must first tell you that neither of us are Catholic. So I had to look it up.

Apparently, wearing a rosary around one's neck can be seen as disrespectful. The argument is that by doing so, the rosary is treated as more of a fashion accessory than as a facilitator of prayer and meditation. Monks and nuns generally attach their rosaries to their belts. Others wear rosary rings or bracelets.

So wearing a rosary around one's wrist would actually be preferred, mostly because it would be under the shirt cuff and not on display for the whole world to see how pious you are.

A movie such as Hellboy gives us a chance to ask these types of questions. Let's be clear: Hellboy is just as entrenched in Judeo-Christian mythology as it is in the Lovecraftian ethos. Satan, Jesus and Chthulu are part of this world. And guess what? This mixes of myths makes Hellboy the perfect project for Del Toro.

Growing up in Spain, del Toro would have been surrounded by Catholicism. Once he got ahold of H.P. Lovecraft, that cosmic mysticism came into his life. Much like West Indian voodoo is a mix of Catholicism and African tribal religions, the religion in Hellboy is Catholicism plus American cosmic agnosticism.

And I think it is brilliant. Here del Toro is able to talk about religion -- and about Satan/theDevil -- in a real way. By using fantasy, he can help us see why people still follow religions and let's the viewer decide which path to follow without being preachy or even anti-religion. (The horror genre's relationship with Christianity is a post or two of its own.)

The point is that del Toro's depictions of religion and the use of religious artifacts are meant to make viewers feel safe. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. So whether you want to wear a rosary around your neck or your wrist doesn't matter. What matters is why you are wearing it and how much faith you put into an object. I think del Toro would say that faith in objects, while comforting, doesn't last.

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