Growing up in a pentecostal household
Growing up in a pentecostal household, I was no stranger to the concept of death. My family and I went to church three times a week, where I was reminded that every action or decision I made will be accounted for when God decides to welcome me into heaven or not. I allowed my upbringing and schema to inadequately judge those who could not conceptualize death or the afterlife. But with age, I have learned that everyone did not have the religious background to hold their hand through the dreading topic of death. How do you explain to children where their loved ones are after they have died? How do you introduce the topic of death and afterlife to children without religion? I found that the film Coco (2017), has a very family-oriented attitude towards death and makes the conversation about death to kids a lot simpler. Although this film may be the best way to introduce the afterlife and the forbidden, this film also challenges the traditional islamic-judeo-christian philosophy of the afterlife and the forbidden.
Coco (2017), is an animated film that celebrates life through the journey of death in mexican culture. The setting takes place in Santa Cecilia Mexico on Dia de Muertos, or Day of the Dead. Dia de Muertos is a day designated to give gifts and offering to the dead. Those celebrating this holiday would display their ancestors pictures on the ofrenda with trails of marigold petals from the cemetery to their homes. The marigold petals allowed the ancestors to travel from the “Land of The Dead”, or afterlife, to the “Land of the Living.” These trails of marigold petals can be found all over the city.
The protagonist is a young aspiring musician by the name of Miguel. Miguel lives with his family who suffocates him with the responsibilities of the family shoe-making business. Miguel's abuelita, or grandmother, enforces the family tradition that no one can practice or listen to any form of music. This was forbidden by Miguel’s great-great grandmother, Imelda, whose husband left her to pursue his dream to become a musician, or at least that's what Miguel was led to believe. After accidentally damaging his grandparents photo on the ofrenda, he discovers that his great-great grandfather (whose face was torn out of the picture), was holding a guitar that belonged to Ernesto de la Cruz, one of the most famous mexican musicians ever. Miguel then concluded the Ernesto de la Cruz was his great-great grandfather.
During Dia de Muertos, one is suppose to give gifts to the dead, instead, Miguel stole from the deal. He stole a guitar from Ernesto de la Cruz’s mausoleum to play at a local talent show. The very second that Miguel struck the guitar with his fingers the marigold petals on the floor illuminated and danced around him. He then discovered that not only was he intangible but also invisible. The only ones who can see or touch him are those visiting from the “Land of the Dead.” His skeletal ancestors recognized him and took him back to the “Land of the Dead,” where they are told he is cursed because he stole from the dead on Dia de Muertos.
The rest of the movie, Miguel seeks a blessing from his skeletal relatives from the “Land of the Dead” to return to the “Land of the Living” before sunrise or be stuck there forever. He didn't want the blessing from his great-great grandmother Imdela because she continued to forbid him to practice music, so he seeked the blessing from Ernesto de la Cruz. He encountered Hector, an old bandmate of de la Cruz, who helped Miguel on his journey in exchange to help Hector visit his family on Dia de Muertos. During their journey, we discovered that the famous Ernesto de la Cruz murdered his bandmate Hector for his songs and took ownership of them. Through the bonding over this tragic discovery, Miguel found out that his great-great grandfather is not de la Cruz but Hector. When de la Cruz murdered Hector for his music, Hector's family thought he abandoned them to become a famous musician when he didn't. We learned that hector’s daughter, Coco, was Miguel’s great grandmother.
Coco is an ode to the idiom: “gone but not forgotten.” During the film, the matriarch of the family, Imelda, forbids the entire family from music and forbids the family to associate with Hector, or even mentioning his name. One would think that as long as Hector made it to the afterlife that he doesn't need his family to remember him but in fact he does. The “Land of the Dead” is very festive with fluorescent colors and friendly algjebres, or mystical spirit-guide animals. However, there is an after-afterlife, in which when no one remembers you from the “Land of the Living” then you vanish to oblivion. When you are forgotten, you are completely gone forever. Hence why miguel saves Hector by explaining to Imelda that, “ you don’t have to forgive him, but we shouldn't forget him” (Coco 2017).
Coco’s afterlife is not influenced by christianity but mexican and aztec folklore. There is no heaven or hell in this depiction. Both malevolent and benevolent beings share the same vacation of an afterlife as long as their image is on display in the “Land of the Living”. This is evident when we see Ernesto de la Cruz living lavish in the afterlife even after commiting a murder.This afterlife also have a sort of fame-based caste system. Those who are extremely famous or are historical figures, have immortality like Frida Kahlo. Those who are from small families or did not have much of an impact on the world are subjected to being forgotten and vanishinging to oblivion. In this film, attention in all forms of media can give you more mileage in the afterlife. Whereas in the islamic-judeo-christian religion, your milage or ticket in heaven is based on religious merit (obeying the commandments, praying, etc). There are also no deity in Coco’s afterlife. There is no omnipotent or all-powerful being that oversees everything , which is completely taboo to the islamic-judeo-christian philosophy as well.