Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Mythology in Movies: Cronos

It's October, and we all know what that means—☠ spook-tacular ☠ moooooovies! (Ugh. No. That is awful. Let's forget I just used that term and move on.)

Man oh man! *slaps knee* Can you believe that it's been an entire year since this post on The Devil's Backbone? Whew! Where did the time go? That's actually a fairly pertinent question given this post's topic: Guillermo del Toro's Cronos, or, more specifically, imagery in the film that symbolizes time and what that has to do with myth-telling. The story friggin' starts with a chiming clock and leads into an XCU of grinding gears so, yeah, I would say we've got a solid base.


Rated R for horror violence and for language.

What's in a name? (I'm in the mood for terribly clichéd phrases today. Hopefully it passes.) 'Cronos', also spelled as 'Chronos' from the Greek, is the ancient philosophical personification of time. He is usually portrayed as an old man with a beard. This description parallels that of lead character Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi, Dr. Casares in TDB), who is an elderly antique dealer with a 'stache white as snow (nope—still clichén' it up in here). In some creation myths, the god and his serpent companion circled the world egg with their coils, cracking it apart to form a more orderly form of the universe. Also of note is that, according Orphism, Chronos is said to have produced a big, silvery egg in the Aether. From this egg emerged Phanes, the deity of procreation who made the cosmos and birthed all first gen. gods. No biggie. I bring this up because eggs are another symbol closely tied to time in Cronos.

Eggs in little silver holders can be seen on the fridge door.
The white bandage around Gris's hand is held together with similar silver clips.

We've got good ol' Father Time. We've got eggs with shiny bits. We've got a dressed hand that was recently bloodied by the Cronos device, which is itself a sort of egg containing a weird...bug...thing. What is going to emerge from Gris's injury? His lust for life, it would seem. Some things remain unclear—ambiguity is something viewers love in Del Toro's works. Is Gris actually transformed into a vampire, or is he is some other kind of undead creature? One thing is definitely apparent, though: the dude needs blood to survive. Luckily for him, De la Guardia and his nephew Angel provide more than enough of the sanguineous stuff.

Put that last thought on hold for a sec, because the lesson in allegorical theory isn't over yet. (Trust me, it will all tie together. Just hang in there.) Chronos is oftentimes confused with the Greek Titan Cronus/Kronos, though—today—some argue that the two were once thought to be one in the same. At any rate, "Cronus represented the destructive ravages of time which consumed all things," something which is made obvious by the consumption of his children (the young being ravaged by the old, for those failing to grasp the metaphorical implication). In the film, Angel loathes his uncle and eventually deals the life-sucking scoundrel the killing blow, saying, "You've made me wait long enough." I posit that this mimics the Olympians overthrowing their father during the Titanomachy. Once freed from his stomach by their brother Zeus, they all took Cronus down much like he did his own father. In most versions, his is an unhappy fate.

See? We got through it. Together! ;-)

Further 'proof' that the two gods are actually one lies in Cronus' main symbols, namely the sickle and the scythe. Father Time—whom I mentioned earlier—is inextricably bound to Death, and both are usually pictured with a reaping tool. Our concept of Papa Past-Present-Future stems from none other than Chronos.

Gris passes behind some dude dressed up as a clock at a New Year's Eve party.
Subtility is for chumps, right Del Toro?

Almost all portrayals of immortality in both age-old fables and modern-day fiction are pessimistic. Sure, it sounds great in the short-run: you never die and—usually—get to stay young forever. The catch? Everyone around you fades away. They grow old while you are forced to watch them and the rest of the world wither away into nothingness. If you're a vampire or something similar, you might have a coven (Underworld) or a biker gang (The Lost Boys) or even some schoolgirls to take as possum-eating brides (The Monster Squad), but you've still got to drink the blood of others to survive, and that kinda sucks (bad puns as well as clichés, yikes). If you're a zombie, you're not really you so much as brain-dead. Angels are tossers, demons don't have souls, and...hey! A lot of these guys can actually be killed, be it with wooden stakes, machetes, exorcism, et cetera. Point being, immortality is not all it's cracked up to be. Del Toro's take on it in Cronos is no exception. There is something organic powering the Cronos device just as humans are living, breathing time bombs. You can keep things ticking only for so long before the consequences begin to outweigh the benefits.

Yeah, you can live forever, but what kind of existence would that be?
No one wants to live like organ-missing, drug-pumped De la Gaurdia in his isolated factory.

Back to eggs for a moment...there are some crazy things out there about egg myths. One I remember in particular has to do with the French folktale Bluebeard by one of this blog's favourite authors, Charles Perrault! If you want a nice (and humorous) summarization of the story, check out fable expert Dael Kingsmill's Bloody Bluebeard video on YouTube that she posted last Halloween. Anyway, toward the end of a variation of the story called Fitcher's Bird, big bad Bluebeard tells his wife never to go into this one particular room in their castle. Before he goes on some errand or another, he gives her an egg to hold onto whilst he's away. Seems like a dandy request, so she agrees to carry it around. Once he leaves, she of course enters the forbidden chamber, and what she sees inside shocks her so much that she drops the egg onto the floor. It gets completely coated in blood. Insert somewhat tired observation about the whiteness of eggs representing virginity and how the blood in turn symbolizes a break from said purity, blah blah blah blah...oh! Look! A screencap from Cronos highlighting my point in a slightly-vague-though-not-totally-far-fetched way!

The marble floor looks like a cracked egg, you say?
Why yes...yes it does, doesn't it?
You could say the same of Gris's second skin, all soft and the colour of alabaster.

Perrault seems to have influenced Del Toro on more than just one flick. Gris's granddaughter, Aurora (Tamara Shanath), is oftentimes seen wearing red clothing (her rain jacket even has a red hood). Given that she is Miss Creepy McCreepster, I am definitely not as convinced of her innocence as I am of Little Red Riding Hood's...but she is still a child and the driving force behind Gris's grisly actions. Del Toro would certainly want to draw attention to these facts, and did so—at least in part—through very deliberate choices in costume design.

Possibly the most psychologically scarred little girl on the planet.

This onion just keeps on a'peelin', but I will draw this post to a close. Viewing Del Toro's fairy tale/horror trilogy last to first was a grand adventure; it is one that will continue to give me nightmares for years to come. *cough*paleman*cough* Hopefully you learned something new from this jumble—feel free to leave a comment if you have any insights to share! Happy Halloween, and suo tempore.

Gris falls from grace in front of a giant clock face. *whispers* Suuuuubtleeeetyyy!

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