Coco

Written By: - Date published: 10:00 am, January 10th, 2018 - 12 comments
Categories: film, Media - Tags:

The film Coco got best animated film at the Golden Globes yesterday. You should go.

Like all outstanding works for children, it works best as a way of getting adults into the theatre to make them understand some things as only their forgotten and frail child-self can.

In Coco, the thing it is trying to get our best child-self to understand is how passing on our memories of our ancestors is a fundamental building block to the identity formation of all who succeed us, and it’s really hard to function without that.

Coco does this with the time-honoured storytelling device of slipping from this prosaic world into a vast dreamy world of near-parables, one far more alluring, complex, and testing than our own. Then it brings you back with all the issues resolved and the dream-lessons slipping and interrupting slightly into this world. The best literary comparison to Coco, shifting from Mexico to Pakistan, is Salman Rushdie’s ‘Haroun and the Sea of Stories’ – it’s fun, and dense, and true.

Coco, set in Mexico, concentrates on the images of venerated uncles and aunties now dead, and figures how to keep them ‘alive’, so to speak. It circles this around the Day of the Dead.

About a century ago, philosophers noted how the energy of societal attention previously devoted to paintings seemed to be dissipating with the popularization of photography. Now in our age, we look on still photography portraits with an inattentive nostalgia we only barely register when seeing them on the walls of elderly relatives when we visit them on holiday. Our attitude to images of relatives has vastly altered in the course of a decade as our trillions of selfies are never viewed again, are held in ‘clouds’ of immateriality, and ensure that our memories of those who have gone and all they have done are as fleeting as a sleeping breath.

Coco reminds us that still photography portraits hold the same aura of a life as powerfully as religious icons do for many cultures. Walter Benjamin’s book of nearly a century ago, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Reproduction’ tells us that there are ages where the whole mode of human sense perception changes with our dominant mode of existence. The manner in which human sense perception is organized, the medium in which it is accomplished, is determined within a nexus of sensory activity, new available technology, and history. We are in one now.

If Walter Benjamin was worried about loss of aura from painting to photography and film, he’d understand what part of our old form of being human we lose when our minds are outsourced into a server. We fade faster, and we are forgotten faster, than ever before.

The message of Coco is clear: bind the living and the dead with memories retold and stabilized. In doing so, secure who you are. Then through that security define your own story as the wellspring of your imaginative self.

So take your kids, and take your parents. You will weep for all you are losing.

12 comments on “Coco”

  1. Bill 1

    In Coco, the thing it is trying to get our best child-self to understand is how passing on our memories of our ancestors is a fundamental building block to the identity formation of all who succeed us, and it’s really hard to function without that.

    That gives rise to an uneasy conflict.

    On the one hand, remembering or recognising roots gives the ability to act from a place or sense of belonging…the forming of a grounded identity. But on the other, there’s the drag of the past and the stultifying effect of tradition…and incomplete or hampered action in the present.

    Those contradictory movements are easy enough to recognise at the individual and societal level. (Institutional inertia is maybe the most obvious and least contentious example)

    Anyway, the whole caboodle tends towards some iteration of the “Ship of Theseus” paradox – and a conclusion that identity through time doesn’t and can’t really exist at all, which ironically, can only be said from a position that accepts a concept of time and movement as giving rise to identity. 🙂

    Anyway, I’m fucking off and away. Someone will be back later.

    • Molly 1.1

      “That gives rise to an uneasy conflict.

      On the one hand, remembering or recognising roots gives the ability to act from a place or sense of belonging…the forming of a grounded identity. But on the other, there’s the drag of the past and the stultifying effect of tradition…and incomplete or hampered action in the present.”

      Kind of with you on that Bill. But in context of people being connected to land, before we had such a mobile society, that connection to roots – and to the future, meant cultures more than likely promoted guardianship rather ownership. So resources available, were looked after more.

      In a modern society, the resources are sometimes natural and owned, but they are often support systems, and collective work.

      Like all things, the way of life should be in perpetual review. And change is inevitable, but how we address it while retaining our values gives many possibilities.

  2. Molly 2

    Thanks Ad for the review.

    But surprised that you have not acknowledged the link with the theme of the film with the local perspective of Māori, Pasifika and Asian cultures. Acknowledging the dead is a fundamental part of many NZ lifestyles.

    You only have to go to a local marae, and participate in a powhiri to see this practiced.

    And oftentimes the walls of those wharenui are a gallery of still photos of tupuna, and/or living rooms of families have their family tree recorded photographically for all to see when they visit.

    • Ad 2.1

      “Coco reminds us that still photography portraits hold the same aura of a life as powerfully as religious icons do for many cultures.”

      You can build on that if you like.

      Worth having a look at the Goldie Room that they have up in the Auckland Art Gallery at the moment, for that reason.

      • Molly 2.1.1

        Have been up to the Goldie Room, and those portraits are powerful as art.

        But the power of ordinary men and women having their faces shown, and their stories told is another thing entirely.

        • Ad 2.1.1.1

          Thoroughly agree.
          The Goldies are good and controversial, because Goldie presumed that he was painting the last of a dying race – as per the titles.

          But they are also portraits that are highly venerated by Maori for recording ancestors in detail – and most of those are taken from photographs or from live subjects.

  3. Anon 3

    “Define yourself based on dead people you had nothing to do with” – um, no.

  4. eco maori 4

    There is a awesome street art picture of a Maori Tao/warrior At the back of some shops that you can see clearly from Pitau Rd Mount Maunganui by one of my clients the shop must be on bounty Lane.
    He is wearing a Kakahu Maori cloak he wearing a beautiful ponamu it a excellent example of how talented the artist is. Many thanks to this artist.
    Ka kite ano

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