“Monsters Are Living, Breathing Metaphors”
Guillermo del Toro is a Mexican filmmaker, producer, and author. Most recently, he won the 2018 Academy Award for Best Director for The Shape of Water.
Question: What do monsters represent metaphorically?
Guillermo del Toro: I think that I’m interested in monsters not because they have a specific value, you know, I actually think they are, they have multiple values depending on how you use them. They are symbols of great power. I think that at some point, when we became thinking creatures, we decided to interpret the world by creating a mythology of gods and monsters. You know, we created angels, we created demons, we created serpents devouring the moon. We created a mythology to make sense of the world around us.
And monsters were born at the same time that the angels or any of the beatific creatures and characters were created. So, I don’t assign them a specific value but I do... I am very mindful of the way I deal with them in the movies and in the books because I assign them a specific function and I try to take them to the extreme with that. You know, I make them victims or I make them sympathetic or I make them brutal parasites. And they become a metaphor for something else. Obviously, monsters are living, breathing, metaphors. For me, half of the fun is explaining them socially, biologically, mythologically, and so forth.
Question: What does our need to create beasts say about human nature?
Guillermo del Toro: I think the moment we made our interpretation of the world as this sort of binary, you know, type of interpretation, night and day became separate entities—light and dark. And we went through the process of creating the world by an understanding of the world through opposites. We needed to mythologize. And I think what it tells you is that... it’s mostly Western culture thinking. There are Eastern philosophies that accept "the good and the bad" as parts of the whole. And that the good flows with the bad and the bad flows right back into the good. And that is a beautiful way of understanding the world and the Universe.
But Western culture tells you that we understand the world through opposites only. There’s a great phrase, and I’m going to misquote it, in the Tao saying essentially that whenever we consider something good at the same time we are deeming something bad. When we consider something light is because we are considering something dark. And it’s better to just understand everything as the everything and abandon ourselves to it, and so forth. But I think that’s what it tells you.
Recorded on September 22, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller
Western culture teaches us to understand the world in terms of binaries. That's why the myths we’ve created to explain the world need both angels and demons.
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