3) Cronos (1993) Dir: Guillermo del Toro Date Released: May 1994 Date Seen: January 6, 2009 Rating: 4/5
Of Guillermo del Toro's "dark" fairy tales,* Cronos is his most thoughtful. Admittedly, it superficially orients its fantastic story of an elderly man turning into a vampire to an "adult" audience. For example, del Toro infrequently dips into Cronenberg worship mode in the way Jesus Gris (Federico Luppi) comes to terms with the the fact that, like Seth Brundle and Max Renn, his body is changing in ways he doesn't understand (Abdominal vagina cavity, anyone?). But here, that kind of transformation is mandated by a child's naive vision. Aurora (Tamara Shanatah), Gris's pint-sized daughter, doesn't talk much at all. But in the furtive looks she steals of her unnaturally older father, who looks old enough to be her mother's father, you can see the mechanism at the heart of Cronos. The film is essentially a story about a young girl coming to terms with her fear that, because her father is so old--in this case, comically so--he will soon die and leave her alone. Jesus's transformation into a vampire is Aurora's way of realizing that her secret wish that he grow younger shouldn't happen. Jesus decides to kill himself at the end murmuring his own name over and over again to re-assert control over his own identity and hence his own destiny and in the process, he vicariously realizes for Aurora why eternal life is a Catch 22 (you're eternally damned if you do drink blood, eternally damned if you don't, nyuk nyuk).
Jesus and Aurora's skewed relationship is deftly juxtaposed with Mr. De la Guardia (Claudio Brook) and his impatient, plastic surgery-obsessed son Angel (Ron "the Don" Perlman). De la Guadia Sr. is so taken with the idea of finding and controlling the scarab amulet that transforms Jesus into a vampire that he winds up only teaching his son to be just as engrossed by literally skin-deep, cosmetic self-improvement. Alex resents his father for that and for the fact that he has to wait on him hand and foot until he kicks the bucket and his father in turn resents him because he can't bring him the scarab, the only thing he's interested in any more. They are what the Gris's realize that they could become, the younger generation vainly looking to the older one's youth hungrily for sustenance while the supplicating younger one finds himself only growing older and never any happier or wiser for it.
The Gris's and De la Guardia's relationship as foils to one another is pronounced by the way that the scenes with De la Guardia and most of the ones with his son all seem relatively sped up. Del Toro doesn't allow them to unfold in their own time as he does the scenes with Jesus and his family, because they're all business and the latter is meant to look more tentative. The combination of the two alternating, tonally balanced speeds that del Toro shifts into shows the viewer how his fantasies work: they are made to look naturalistic at times but are only designed to look that way in part. Like the scarab, they're all part of a larger storytelling mechanism that employs deterministic, sometimes over-cut scenes and more languorous scenes in equal measure because they're all of one piece. There's no real distinction between the more immature, slapsticky pacing of the De la Guardia scenes and the more pensive Gris scenes because the older generation informs the younger just as much as the younger do the older. In that way, there's no conflict between "dark" or "light" fairy tale style because in the end, the two concepts are only complementary.
*What tried-and-true fairy tale isn't dark? And if you say anything that rhymes with "dreck," I kill.