Coco Is the Definitive Movie for This Moment | The New Yorker
one weekend last fall, my boyfriend andrew, whose favorite movies include “deliverance” and the original “texas chain saw massacre”, went to see the pixar movie “coco” alone, and came back in a frenzy of happy and nostalgic tears. “what’s going on with you?” I asked, watching him ride his bike back to the living room. I hadn’t moved from my permanent post behind my computer monitor, a center for the continuing erosion of my belief in the human good. “You have to go see ‘coconut,’” he croaked. “You have to. It’s like the best movie of all time.”
I assumed I was being hyperbolic, until one night in April I invited three friends over to watch “coco,” all of us first-time viewers with high expectations. people we knew, people in their twenties and thirties, some of them with kids, had gone crazy for “coco” in group text messages and random conversations, saying things like “I cried so much I started choking” and “I “. I’ve seen it five times this month on planes. “hey people out here getting drunk and watching coco, just FYI,” I texted Andrew, who was still in the office. in return, I received a series of panic instructions not to start without him. “You’ve already seen…” I texted “I don’t care!!!!!!!” he sent a text message. “don’t start without me!”
we started without him. Andrew came home a third of the way through the movie, opened a beer, and sat quietly on the living room floor to watch. by the end, each of us was crying with a maniacal smile. “I told you,” he said. “It’s the best movie of all time.”
In the weeks since that viewing, the love for “coco” has continued to spread among my demographic, thanks in part to the film’s release on netflix in May. “coco” is unlike any movie I can think of: it presents death as a life-affirming inevitability; its plot of grudges and abandonment makes you feel less alone. The protagonist, Miguel, is a twelve-year-old boy from the fictional Mexican town of Santa Cecilia—named after the patron saint of musicians—and tries to step out of the shadow of his great-great-grandfather, who left his family to pursue a career as a musician. musician. his wife, the fierce mama imelda, was left in charge of her little daughter, coco. she instituted a permanent domestic ban on music and began making shoes.
we know coconut as an old woman. her daughter, miguel’s grandmother, now runs the family and her shoe business with an iron flip-flop. serious and sweet miguel learns to play the guitar alone in the attic, watching and rewatching tapes of past star ernesto de la cruz. on the day of the dead, he accidentally breaks a framed photograph in the family offering, then sees a hidden detail in the image, one that makes him suspect that his wayward ancestor was actually the same one from the cross. He runs to the city’s mausoleum, hoping to borrow de la Cruz’s guitar and prove the value of music to his family. instead, the guitar renders miguel invisible and carries him across an air bridge covered in thick, soft marigold petals that glow like lava. he falls to his knees in the petals and then looks up to see a large, confetti-colored floating metropolis in the dark: the land of the dead.
The film’s second and third acts take place primarily in this city of jubilant sugar skull skeletons, where you exist only as long as the living remember you. (you can cross over to the world of the living on the day of the dead, but only if your photo is on display). Miguel teams up with a ragged showbiz con man named Hector, who is desperate to get his photo back into an Ofrenda. , and that he says that he can take Miguel to de la Cruz. Hector lives in a marginal neighborhood facing the sea full of people who are about to be forgotten; At one point, he asks Miguel for a guitar from a cranky cowboy named Chicharrón, who disappears as soon as Hector finishes singing a dirty old song.
Miguel eventually realizes that Hector is his true ancestor, and the film reaches a conclusion as cleverly crafted to produce waterworks as the montage at the beginning of “up.” but until the end, “coco” is mostly, wonderfully, a mess of conflict, disappointment, and sadness. Hector seems to have failed all those who take risks with him. Miguel’s face, painted in skeleton camouflage, is often tilted like a sad black and white puppy. “coco” is animated by sweetness, but this sweetness is subterranean, breaking mostly into small details: the way mama imelda and miguel’s grandmother brandish their shoes when they’re angry; or like the crazy xolo dog that accompanies miguel on his adventure is called dante; or how the skeletons return to their city through the efficient t.s.a. day of the dead system, declaring the churros and beer that their families gave them for the trip back home.
Before “coco” hit theaters, it was easy to doubt that the film would present Mexican culture as expansively and beautifully as it does, with such natural familiarity and respect. It is Pixar’s nineteenth film, but the first with a non-white protagonist. Lee Unkrich, the director and creator of the opening story, is white. The working title of the film was “Day of the Dead” and, in 2013, Disney’s lawyers tried, absurdly, to register that phrase as a trademark. But Unkrich and his team approached the subject with candor and collaborative humility: They traveled to Mexico, loosened typical Pixar secrecy to build a large network of consultants, and, after the trademark controversy, asked several prominent critics to join them. to the project. “Coco” is the first film to have an all-Latino cast and a nine-figure budget. It grossed more than eight hundred million dollars worldwide, won two Oscars, and became the biggest box office hit in Mexican history.
“coco” is also a definitive film for this moment: an image of all the things we are not, an exploration of values that feel increasingly difficult to practice in the real world. is the story of a multi-generational matriarchy, rooted in the past, while real life, these days, feels like a timeless, structureless nightmare ruled by men. it’s about lineage and continuity at a time when every morning makes me feel like my brain is being wiped and hit by new flashes of cruelty, like history is forgotten and only the worst parts are rewritten. it feels like myth or science fiction to imagine that our great-great-grandchildren will remember us. If we continue to treat our resources the way we are currently treating them, those children, if they exist, will live in a world that is devastated, punishing, artificial and harsh.
This world is hard enough: its technological conditions induce emotional alienation and its economic ones limit our attention to questions of individual survival. As it stands, I haven’t set up the offering that I should. I barely feel like I’m taking proper care of the people I love right now, and I mean the ones I know personally. I’m sure I’m failing the people I don’t know but love nonetheless: the people of our national community and the people seeking to become a part of it.
Coco is a film about borders more than anything: the beauty in its porosity, the sheer pain that comes when a border locks you away from your family. the conflict in the story comes from not being able to cross; the resolution is that love pushes you to the other side. the thesis of the film is that families should be together. i watched it again this week and read the news that donald trump is considering building an unregulated detention camp for migrant children, that ice appeared on a lawful permanent resident’s lawn and started deportation proceedings, that a four-year-old months was torn from its nursing mother. if fairness is what love looks like in public, then love has started to seem like the stuff of kids’ movies, or maybe the stuff of this kids’ movie, something that doesn’t make sense in the adult world, but it should.