The Devil’s Backbone Recommended and Explained

The Devil’s Backbone Recommended and Explained
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The Devil’s Backbone Recommended and Explained. Erika, from the Patreon side of the THiNC. house, has been hounding me to do a walkthrough and breakdown of this film for forever. I’m sorry Erika! But here you go dear! Hopefully it lives up to your demanding standards! hahah. It would be fun to do a community watch party and discussion of this one. There is a lot to talk about here.

Overview of the movie The Devil’s Backbone

Movie opens provocatively with the question – “What is a ghost? A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and time again?” The movie introduces us to Casares – a doctor – and Carmen, who run an orphanage in Spain in the middle of the Spanish Civil War. (You should recognize the same time frame and setting from Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth.) Casares and Carmen work to support the Republican loyalists and have stashed a large pile of gold in support of the Republican treasury. Also, we get the sense early on, that Franco’s troops, they are regularly attacking the orphanage, and there is even an enormous bomb dug in to the orphanage’s courtyard, with children playing in and around it.

Carlos, a newly orphaned child – who doesn’t know he’s been orphaned – is dropped off at an orphanage. Carlos quickly ‘befriends’ Jaime, Galvez and Owl. And when Carlos is given a bed, we find out that he’s placed in Santi’s old bed… who may, or may not, be dead? Speak of said devil, Carlos begins seeing visions of a spirit? A shadow? Something. Is it Santi? We don’t know. But soon, we learn that Santi went missing the day that the bomb was dropped in the courtyard. Jaime dares Carlos to sneak into the kitchen to grab some water after curfew, and Carlos says he’ll go only if Jaime goes with him. Jaime bails out mid-dare, leaving Carlos to go it alone. When Carlos hears a voice telling him that “many of you will die” he freaks out and runs outside only to be caught by Jacinto. In the morning, Carlos covers for Jaime and it earns Jaime’s friendship as a result.

Now, something is going on with Jacinto… someone that we know was once an orphan at the orphanage. But he doesn’t want anyone to know about his past. And we also know that he is there at the orphanage to try and get to the hidden gold by trying the keys that Carmen (whom he’s having an affair with) has access to. Later that night, a few of the boys hear a noise and they go to investigate what it is. Carlos sees a pale boy with a wound to his head that is still bleeding. Seeing this, he runs for it. And he starts putting two and two together when he finds a drawing of a ghost-like figure labeled as “Santi” that Jaime had made.

Eventually, Ayala – one of the men that work in the orphanage – is captured by the nationalists. The glitch? It’s pretty clear to Casares that soon, Ayala will break, and will tell his torturers about the orphanage and the gold that is stashed there. Knowing this, Casares convinces Carmen that they need to run for it, and take the boys with them. But when Jacinto hears what they are planning, he demands the gold immediately, and even calls out the affair that he has been having with Carmen. At this point, Casares tells Jacinto to leave at gunpoint.

Soon after, Conchita catches Jacinto dousing the kitchen with gasoline and shoots him. Enraged, Jacinto starts a fire in the kitchen and then runs for it. Carmen and another teacher named Alma try to put the fire out – but Alma and several children die when an explosion caused by the fire happens. And Carmen is found by Casares to be gravely hurt as a result of the blast. After she dies from her injuries, Casares decides he and the children are going to stay at the orphanage come what may. He arms himself, and he awaits Jacinto’s arrival back at the orphanage.

The next night, Jaime tells Carlos the circumstances around Santi’s disappearance. Apparently, Jaime and Santi were getting snails out at the cistern when they found Jacinto trying to open the safe that housed the gold. Jaime ran for it, but Jacinto caught Santi and tried to threaten into silence. Angry, Jacinto pushed Santi into the wall, which is how he received the terrible head wound and ultimately went into shock. Jacinto, panicked, then tied stones to Santi’s body and dropped him in the cistern. Meanwhile, running away, Jaime ran back into the courtyard, only to have the inert bomb land feet from him. Luckily surviving a blast that never came.

Jaime, defiantly tells Jacinto that he will never be afraid of him again… and that he’ll kill him if he comes back. After, Conchita starts walking into town looking for help when she came across Jacinto driving back to the orphanage to get the gold. Brandishing a knife – Jacinto threatens her and tells her to apologize for the gall of shooting him. But instead, Conchita insults him. And at that? Jacinto stabs her to death. So, yeah, that just happened. Jacinto is not the love-smitten boy I thought he was at the start of the film! hahah. Carlos encounters Santi one last time, and he is obviously no longer afraid of him, now that he knows exactly how he died. Santi tells Carlos that he wants him to bring Jacinto to him.

Jacinto and his buddies arrive at the orphanage and they lock up the orphans while they are looking for the gold. Eventually he finds the gold long after his compatriots leave. Taking the gold with him, simultaneously, Jaime tells the kids that they have to fight back. And in a scene from 3 Amigos, they craft weapons from sticks and broken glass in order to attack Jacinto in the basement. Eventually they push him into the cistern where – you would remember, if you were paying attention – he had dumped Santi’s body earlier. His pockets stuffed with gold, his body was weighed down and it dragged him down. Struggling to get to the surface, Santi’s ghost appears from the bottom of the cistern and then drags him to the bottom of the pool, drowning him with his gold. And as the orphans pile out of the orphanage and head towards town, Casares’ ghost watches them go.

The Devil's Backbone Recommended and Explained - a movie with such deep spiritual roots it will take a lot to discern its meaning.

The Devil’s Backbone Recommended and Explained

The Devil’s Backbone is sort of the twin to Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. A story about a girl circumnavigating a maze of mortality as she seeks to extract herself from the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Similarly, Carlos is also attempting to find his way out of the same war, while stuck in a similarly trapped reality. If you stop for a second, you’ll realize that the orphanage is trapped in time. It’s caught in a literal limbo. A similarly mythical place of ghosts and real evils but it is caught in the vague blankness of time. A place where a bomb pins the orphanage in a moment in between explosion and freefall. Del Toro has placed this place on a cliff, and we are watching, and waiting, for something to tip it one way or the other.

The orphanage is a place of salvation, but deep in its heart is a dark core. A cistern of darkness and death. It is also weighed down by this gold and debt to society it doesn’t want. Notice how Conchita at the beginning of the film pleads for others to take the gold away, that she can’t carry this responsibility anymore. She’s aware that it’ll be the end of her, and she’s right.

Where does the story’s title come from? Well, the doctor of the orphanage has a collection of jars where the preserved bodies of children that died with spina bifida are housed. This is where the title comes from. The Devil’s Backbone. And the rum that preserves the children is called “limbo water”… limbo… the orphanage is in limbo… and it might also have some sort of healing power to it. It’s rumored so extensively that the town’s people come and pay for the rum… and its one of the main way the orphanage supports itself. And it is the ghosts that create the real backbone of the movie… the sins of our pasts come back to life. But it is the men vying for the gold, and the war ravaging the country, that are the real evils pervading this film.

But what do we do with this movie? What can we discern from its opaque meanings? Well, rule number one of THiNC. club – always investigate every single literary or film reference a movie makes. “What literary reference??” Well, can you remember any references at all? “Well, there was that comic book reference… ” No, I mean, yes. There was a comic book reference, but it was a comic book of a work of literature . Which one? Right, The Count of Monte Cristo… which tells the story of a man left for dead, that resurrects himself, and exacts a very elaborate revenge on his “friends.” He uses his new found money like honey, and draws them in far enough to crush them one by one.

The orphans, those running the orphanage… those that are more pure in heart, they aren’t even subtly swayed by the gold. In fact, all they want in this world is to make it through, to survive, and to not be torn apart by the war. Look at Carlos, he’s caught in this limbo of not knowing what happened to his father. He might have a hint. But no one tells him anything, he is just left there one day. And it is in this limbo that the terror of greed, hate, and vengeance comes for him. Why is he called upon to fight this fight? He’s already been kicked while he is down… what else would this movie do to him?

I think though that that is the larger point of both of this movie and its more mythically based Pan’s Labyrinth. It is the weakest of our society, the downtrodden, the children, the forgotten, who will show us the way. It is the kids, lost in this terrible war, that will be the ones that will show the “strong” of Spain real strength. They will rise up, discard the gold and the greed, and kill those that threaten them by way of their own ghosts. This is a great moral lesson we could learn from today. Not just in the midst of real war, but in the contentiousness of life today. It is the pure in heart that will really prevail. And those that are all about seeming, and not being, that will really be dragged down ultimately.

Edited by: CY