Friday, November 20, 2015

"Spectre" and Mexico's Day of the Dead

*This is a guest post by writer/researcher, Jared Hill.*

The 24th James Bond film to hit theaters, Spectre, features everyone's favorite genteel spy fighting the Spectre global crime syndicate. Along with the thrill, explosive action, and suspense that are standard fare for the James Bond franchise, this film contains some spooky elements. Spectre, especially its haunting opening sequence, is bound to have audiences wanting to learn more about Mexican ghost folklore and Day of the Dead traditions.

Those unfamiliar with the James Bond series would do well to set aside some time to watch the older films, which are frequently shown on cable TV. Spectre features a large number of references to previous films in the franchise and recognizing these nods to the film's predecessors is part of what makes watching Bond movies fun. Spectre, which stars Daniel Craig in the role of James Bond, takes a slant that hasn't been seen in other Bond films by including Latin American folklore in its scenery and in some elements of the story. The Day of the Dead celebration, or Dia de los Muertos, takes center stage in an elaborate opener to the film that is both breathtaking and a bit unnerving.

The sequence shows a Day of the Dead parade traveling through the streets of Mexico City - where part of the filming actually took place - all while Bond tussles with an adversary. This is true to actual Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico City, which literally shut down city streets and is a huge procession with thousands of participants. Visitors travel to the country from across the world to experience this custom and partake in the festivities. Such grand parades are what earned Mexico City its nickname, "City of the Dead.”

While the huge parades are held for real life Dia de los Muertos celebrations, a more important aspect of the tradition is the personal two-day period of remembrance. It is during this time that families hold vigils for their deceased loved ones who have passed on and reflect on their lives. They make ofrendas, which are decorated altars, in their homes and at grave sites to honor the dead, as well as pray and sing songs for the departed.

This is the element of the Day of the Dead that audiences won't see in Spectre. But what is seen during the sequence are images representing La Catrina, which is a folk figure that symbolizes Dia de los Muertos. La Catrina has the classic look - highly stylized, spooky makeup and a skeletal appearance - that is associated with the celebration. The image was created in the 1800’s by artist Jose Guadalupe Posada. The makeup and costumes on most of the extras present in the parade scene are sporting looks heavily inspired by La Catrina.

The paranormal plays a role in Dia de los Muertos, as it is a time for people to connect with the spirit of their deceased loved ones and pay homage to their memories. Death is guaranteed to everyone who is living, no matter their social class or what they accomplish in life. Death is definitely an equalizer unlike any other. Those who celebrate the Day of the Dead acknowledge this fact, which is likely why it remains such a treasured tradition in Mexico.

Because it's such a culturally rich tradition that is also full of glitz and fanfare, Dia de los Muertos fits perfectly within Spectre. The film should definitely get credit for its respectful, artistic depiction of the celebration - combining a mid-air fight scene with a dramatic festival is no small feat, but Spectre gets it right.

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