“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber.”
A huge Jesus statue lies inclined on a broken wall in front of a defused bomb. A bomb half dug into the ground, spreading its roots throughout an abandoned orphanage, sucking the happiness out from the childhood of young souls. Everything is symbolic to a fault: the imagery, the subplots and the Gothic treatment of the subject. The Devil’s Backbone is simply un-tethered Del Toro, at his allegorical best.
When a young boy, Carlos, gets dropped in an orphanage, he comes to terms with the failed bombings, the rich history of the bed he sleeps in and the spooky tales of the ‘one who sighs’, stumbling the vacant corridors at nights. Deceitful characters, multiple motives and with a bloody war at the background, Del Toro hits multiple political analogies while crafting The Devil’s Backbone. Be it a scar on the face of Carlos to the constant conversations of no afterwards in the lives of the inhabitants, no string is left unhinged while attaching the symbolic threads to the core of it’s heart.
What pumps the blood in the blue veins of The Devil’s Backbone is a palpable mystery at it’s core. With multiple story lines converging to unwrap a single enigma, tense background score with moody atmosphere makes sure that we have an immersive experience on our hands. Pan’s Labyrinth might still be the pinnacle of Del Toro’s cinematic journey, but his artistic inclinations are undoubtedly bold in The Devil’s Backbone. By personifying the caretaker who eats the orphanage from within with that of the Spanish Civil strife, the writing proves to be simply exquisite and almost poetic in it’s restrained glory.
Guillermo Del Toro has pierced together a gloomy tale which is mesmerizing and haunting at the same time. One of the most poignant ghost story to have embraced the war genre, The Devil’s Backbone is a sad and powerful portrait of a desolate orphanage in the middle of nowhere, and the horrors that lay curled up inside it’s brittle heart.