Cronos (1993) directed by Guillermo del Torro
Is it a gift or a curse to live forever? Would you even want to? What lengths would you go through to be immortal? These are several of the key questions regarding the vampire mythos and explored in detail in Guillermo del Torro's directorial debut Cronos.
For some reason I keep on returning to vampire movies; I've seen more in the past couple months than I've seen the past couple years combined. (OMG Twilight!) I have grown to appreciate them more for their deeper psychological and philosophical musings than for their actual horror elements. Cronos never once mentions the word vampire, it doesn't need to. This isn't really a vampire movie; it's a movie about a man who is transformed, afflicted, by becoming immortal. As he tells his enemy, "You have more to lose. For me it's just pain."
The film opens with a narration involving a medieval alchemist who creates the cronos device which grants its user longer life. Four centuries later we see the alchemist, transformed into a pale ghostlike man, lying dead in an accident with a stake through his heart. The whereabouts or even the existence of the cronos device is unknown until simple antique shop owner Jesus Gris discovers it hidden in one of his statues. He tinkers with the toy and is alarmed when it latches on to his hand and stabs him.
The transformation begins, although unknowingly, to Jesus who suddenly feels invigorated. He thinks he has stumbled upon something fantastic but cannot comprehend the consequences of the cronos device or what it has turned him into. If he fully understood what was happening he would not have wanted it, as opposed to Dieter de la Guardia, who has been searching for this device his whole life. De la Guardia is dying and seeks the device to live forever.
This is not a horror film in the traditional sense; there are very few true scares. It is the film's psychology, its theme and style that can be frightening. Take for instance, Jesus' realization that he is attracted to blood. He follows a man with a nosebleed to a bathroom. The blood is washed away in the sink save for a tiny puddle on the floor. He gets down on the ground and delicately licks the blood, savoring its gooey life giving force. It is a powerful image that reminds the viewer of Jesus's situation; he has been reduced to a groveling animal desperate to live.
Much of the film actually deals with Jesus's relationship with his granddaughter Aurora, who witnesses first hand what the device does to her grandfather. She mostly just observes throughout the film and is Jesus's silent partner and his only link to his fading humanity. Watching her on film reminded me a lot of Guillermo del Torro's future work Pan's Labyrinth where a young girl wanders through a fantasy world filled with monsters and magical creatures. Del Torro does a great job in capturing this dark magical quality in these two films. It is fitting to see these worlds through a child's eye and sense of wonder.
It is not a coincidence that Jesus is the character's name. Like the other Jesus, he rises from the dead and becomes this mythical figure. However, while the biblical Jesus rises to rule the kingdom of heaven, the Jesus of this film is resigned to roam the earth forever imprisoned by his curse.