Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Book Of Life ★★1/2

    There is a startling discovery made in the expository scenes of "The Book of Life." Evidently, oblivious to the intricacies of science and logic, we are told that Mexico is the center of the universe. Although this information was revealed in a discernibly playful manner, I could not help but wonder how many children, by the film's closing, would truly believe this fantasized notion. My guess is enough to unhinge teachers worldwide.

    The mentioning of this tidbit of knowledge is pertinent because the underlying aim of this children's picture is to delight audiences with a culture that is known to a relative few. (Of course, you would have to go a long way before you found anyone who had not heard of "The Day of the Dead.") Unfortunately, this film does little to inform us of why this holiday is important to Mexican culture and it eventually becomes its own worst enemy.

    "The Book of Life" attempts to cash in on a fairy tale atmosphere, by placing our story within a story. A group of misbehaved adolescents are taken to a museum, on the Day of the Dead and are led into a clandestine portion of the building. They come face to face with the Book of Life, a book that contains every tale the world has ever come into contact with. The tour guide chooses to divulge into an account of love, fate, and self-discovery.

    Among other things, this picture relies on its execution of cosmic and dramatic irony. La Muerte, a dashingly beautiful goddess who keeps watch over the land of the remembered, and Xibalba, a menacing god who is made of all things "icky," essentially become the most significant characters in the film, as they will control the fate of our three young protagonists. A bet is made between these two omniscient figures and the love of Maria is up for grabs between two young men, Manolo, and Joaquin.

    We subsequently watch our main suitors bid for love, as laughter or sympathy is evoked from their dramatic ignorance until Maria has made her fateful decision. Does she choose the war honored heroism of Joaquin or the sensitively induced soul of Manolo? (The latter being a man who would give anything to shun his family's heritage of bullfighting to be a beloved guitarist.) In the end, her choice is a moot point, as the theme has little to do with love and much to do with destiny. There is never any doubt as to who Maria will ultimately choose, and that's part of the problem.

    There are several conflicts at play here. Besides the obvious internal struggle of Maria, there is the complication that perturbs Manolo; a conflict that symbolizes change versus tradition. Manolo must undergo disappointment and shame from his family if he is to dismiss the career of bull fighting for guitar playing. (A relatable notion for many individuals, who choose to pursue their own ambitions in spite of their parent's wishes.)

    The external conflicts stem from Manolo's physical inability to obtain Maria's love and via the presence of Chakal, a rather large and disgruntled bandit, whose role in the film would warrant a state of complete and utter bewilderment. His only motivation for existence is to lend some difficulty to the "real" environment and to redeem the character of Joaquin, which compromises his role as foil and the static nature of his character. Thus, an unnecessary and certainly unneeded aspect, that if left out, could have eased the pain.

    A fascinating segment of the film, in which Manolo travels to the land of the remembered, is regrettably cut short, and this pretty much summarizes the picture's lack of understanding of even its own intentions. The festive spirit that enshrouds this quite magical day of remembrance is ironically forgotten, much like the poor souls who inhabit the other "land" that apparently dwells beneath the surface of Mexico City: The land of the forgotten.

    "The Book of Life" is far from being designated a bad film, although it doesn't help itself deviate from that darkened path. The stock characters are beyond hideous, which seemingly adds to the allure of the main personas, but at length, just symbolizes the beauty of the famed and the dreariness of the insignificant. Channing Tatum's  voice over work is painstakingly horrid and only adds to the laundry list of imperfections that could have been avoided.    

    Nevertheless, there is a very important moral value that children can take away from the context of the picture. Dreams are everything. They distinguish us as individuals and they simply make life worth living. No matter how foolish one's parental guardians may deem a particular career path, always remember that the choice is yours to make. If everyone followed their parent's guidance, the world would be a monotonous place--full of dying ambitions and begrudged patrons. Truly a land of the forgotten.


  1. I wish the Day of the Dead was more prominent in the film; it was so cool to look at, and there was a great message behind it. Also, I love how you closed your review; this would be a land of the forgotten without dreams!

  2. Realy i like ur posts. Thank u for these.