5 Day of the Dead Movies You Need to See
When elements from the beloved tradition the Day of the Dead are incorporated within the context of video and film the results can be dazzling and evocative for a whole bunch of captivating reasons. We’re not just talking about the obvious trope that many scary movies employ where the dead come back from the great beyond to give us all a great big fright but rather a cultural celebration that in effect invites us to reflect on where we stand with respect to a broader human story.
We revel in the idea of being able to explore the darker side of ourselves and the world that surrounds us on a daily basis but with a particularly playful attitude. Throughout the years in Hollywood, the Day of the Dead has become pretty ubiquitous in movies that incorporate Mexican culture for this reason. When it comes down to it, it is an obsession that spans all kinds of genres including action movies and more eccentric works like Tim Burton’s animated tales. In examples that are too numerous to count, this holiday has contributed a considerable amount of beautiful imagery that helps to establish an overall ambience that many moviegoers find to be irresistibly charming.
And it is precisely this fun-loving, and oftentimes rambunctious, energy that makes it ideal for cinematic consumption. Movies with these themes are popping up all over the place and for those who are curious here are just a few that you might want to check out.
One such wonderful area that’s ripe with creativity is animation, and one of the most fantastical examples is Coco which places Mexican culture and tradition at centerstage in the best possible way. As such, it has opened Americans up to the holiday to an extent where it is now far more broadly celebrated in households than ever before. This all too humorous film, that many people will happily tell you is absolutely for the whole family, relies heavily on real life customs that are found throughout Mexico.
The Coco cast is chalked full of lively characters, each of which help to construct a profound morality story. In stark contrast to other Pixar movies like Up, it is completely upbeat despite the fact that much of it takes place in the netherworld. It’s as playful as it is illustrative and a must see for anyone who is unfamiliar with Mexican culture.
When young Miguel finds that he has had enough of his family’s longstanding ban on music, he ventures into the Land of the Dead with the hopes of finding a great-great-grandfather of his, who had left his family to follow his dream of being a legendary singer.
Cast of Coco
Miguel - Anthony Gonzalez
Hector - Gael Garcia Bernal
Ernesto de la Cruz - Benjamin Bratt
Mama Imelda - Alanna Ubach
Abuelita - Renee Victor
Papa - Jaime Camil
James Bond’s Spectre
When you mention the Day of the Dead to someone who lives outside of Latin America, fairly often one of their biggest points of reference is the opening sequence in James Bond’s Spectre, where the movie score mixes almost spellbindingly with an extravagant Day of the Dead parade, all of which takes place in Mexico city’s historic downtown district. It’s an amazing tracking shot that goes on for a full 4 minutes and makes you feel as though you are right in the festivities.
One of the coolest things is that the camera weaves in and out of the dressed up crowds participating in the parade, so as the viewer you feel as though you’re walking the streets of the city, perhaps picturing yourself donning a type of disguise. It’s hard not to think along these lines as the scene unfolds. The costume design is largely traditional and compliment the extravagant and large paper mache characters and creatures that dance between the many colonial style buildings that are showcased.
When a cryptic message from the past begins to reveal the existence of a criminal international organization, James Bond embarks on a series of adventures to track down the boss at the top of the pyramid with the help of the daughter of a promising lead.
Cast of Sectre
James Bond - Daniel Craig
Blofeld - Christoph Waltz
Madeleine - Lea Seydoux
M - Ralph Fiennes
The Book of Life
This is a movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously and, to this end, allows the audience to wonder on a personal level about the possible meanings that accompany the Day of the Dead. The interesting thing about it is that, despite the fact that the main focus is Mexican culture, it has a distinctly European warmth and air about it that gives it a fairy tale like quality. In many ways it looks like a movie that takes place in Spain and, as such, it highlights how the Day of the Dead gained international recognition after blending Mexican culture with European leanings.
The story revolves around a group of school detention students who are ushered into a fantastical world with the help of a tour guide who introduces them to the story of a Mexican town called San Angel, which is part of the Book of Life, a book that holds every story in the world. As it is the Day of the Dead, Xibalba, the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten, and La Muerte, the ruler of the Land of the Remembered, strike a wager after seeing two of the boys fighting over the affection of fellow student Maria Posada. If she wins, Xibalba will no longer interfere in mortal affairs but, if Xibalba wins, they must swap realms. Later, Xibalba decides to cheat by giving his backed candidate a very unfair advantage.
Cast of The Book of Life
Manolo - Diego Luna
Maria - Zoe Saldana
Joaquin - Channing Tatum
Xibalba - Ron Pearlman
La Muerte - Kate del Castillo
Mary Beth - Christina Applegate
Macario may be characterized as a fantastical drama and as such it is anything but a typical film. It’s actually an adaptation of a novel by Bruno Traven who, in turn, adopted it from a Grimm brothers tale. It was a great success and became the first film shot in Mexico to be nominated for an Oscar.
The story takes place in the 18th century when Mexico was still being called New Spain. It serves as a wonderful introduction to the moodiness that’s associated with the Day of the Dead while at the same time appears to he potently cinematic.
Its titular protagonist is a peasant who is obsessed with his own poverty and the idea of death. Because he feels fed up with his position in life, he decides that he won’t eat until he can feast on a whole turkey by his lonesome. His wife thusly steals one for him, and he goes off into the forest to dine. Once there, he refuses to share it with god or the devil but, then, agrees to when he meets death itself. Death, thankful, gives Macario a healing water that summons death to save whomever drinks it for the sake of saving them. Macario, consequently, becomes rich and famous, but gets accused of witchcraft. His only saving grace is being able to save the son of an important government official.
Cast of Macario
Macario - Ignacio Lopez Tarso
Wife of Macario - Pina Pellicer
Death - Enrique Lucero
Don Ramiro - Mario Alberto Rodriquez
The devil - Jose Galvez
God - Jose Luis Jimenez
Día de los Muertos/ Day of the Dead
If you would appreciate a more research driven route, there are plenty of Day of the Dead documentaries that are wellworth watching. A great possibility is the documentary on PBS’ Artbound which highlights this tradition within the context of its emergence in Los Angeles. The wonderful thing about this presentation is that it tells a story of the history of this tradition with the idea of community as a constant theme.
It highlights a number of examples where the community stepped up to contribute to the celebrations over the years, and many are indeed beautiful. It highlights how the roots of a tradition from a place like Mexico can transcend borders and speak to society about new ways of seeing life, and death.
It can be watched on PBS.org
Although the topic of this holiday is death, it can be molded for a number of purposes, especially when dealing with the versatility that Hollywood is widely known for. So give movies with these lovely elements a watch and a listen as there’s a good chance that like with so many people, you’ll end up hooked!