The Cabinet of Curiosities and I: A Love Story

I have long since loved the work of Guillermo del Toro. For me, there is no other director that can do what he does. He is far more than a film director: he is a magician and an architect, designing fantastically immersive worlds that appeal to the child in us all. I remember being about thirteen years old when I first watched Pan’s Labyrinth, and I recall how it felt—like falling in love. He is horror personified.

And now, del Toro has given us perhaps his greatest gift yet, The Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s like Christmas Morning. This epic book—Bible, rather—is a personal tour around the mind of del Toro, from the man himself. From concept ideas that never came to fruition to the foundations of the films we know and love today, this treasure trove is insightful and awe-inspiring. The book includes a Burtonesque development of his creatures, beginning with sketches and messily-written notes in Spanish. His grotesque drawings burn with color and jump off the page like the ramblings of a madman. While it certainly cannot be said that del Toro is definitively sane, this book is evidence of his sharpness and prolific understanding of film. Quite frankly, it is not an overstatement to suggest a similarity to this and Da Vinci’s notebooks. We see his feral and ferocious curiosity and imagination in all these intimate notes, from his beginning works in his native Spanish like Cronos or The Devil’s Backbone to the modern blockbusters, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the Hellboy franchise.

Familiar images from Hellboy in his journal
“Biology is Horror.”[1] At the root of all of del Toro’s work is the idea that we are a grotesque species. Gil Grissom (yes, from CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, please don’t judge me) famously said, “We stop looking for monsters under our beds when we realise that they are inside us all.” A statement that del Toro takes to heart. His understanding of the human condition, and the cruelty and horror that we are all capable of, is exactly what makes his films so touching—that behind the elaborate disguises and horrific makeup the real monsters are in his human characters. You see it in The Devil’s Backbone (fear not, I won’t spoil) and again in Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro is about so much more than horror and fantasy, for he does not seek to entertain us with a fairy spectacle. Instead, he asks us to look inside ourselves and ask if we really are any better.
 

Details of the book, illustrating the home of Pan in Pan’s Labyrinth

This publication makes del Toro very vulnerable: often artists prefer to defend themselves against the intrusion on their work or process, but instead del Toro invites us in, and I feel humbled and, honestly, a little unworthy of it all. The book in its whole is tough to process—I first read it as a picture book. But if you buckle down and invest time to look at the interviews and additional material, you realise that his ability to transform his audience isn’t why we love him: it is because he has the greatest respect and awe for what he does, and is quite noticeably never satisfied with the work. And you instantly understand why his work is, for a lack of a better word, astounding.
—Lottie Abrahams 


The museum of Cabinet of Curiosities
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