JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 292
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Such visual repetition is an acknowledgment of the impact of other
films on the director del Toro's imagination. Yet, more importantly, in
this opening scene, the viewer glimpses an allusion to a representational
mode and discourse-the gothic-chosen for the film's attempts, narra-
tively, ideologically, and psychologically, to come to terms with a
traumatic era in Spanish national history: the Spanish Civil War. Recall,
for a moment, the first scene ofthe so-called original gothic novel, Horace
Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1759). Conrad, the son of the usurper
Manfred, is crushed to death by a giant helmet crashing through the
castle's roof. Symbolizing the legitimate owner's imminent return, this
supernatural manifestation of the "sins of the fathers coming to rest upon
the sons," stagey and theatrical as it is, never disappears through the
course of the narrative, due to its-the helmet's-literal and figurative
weight. Like the helmet, with its message that the younger generation will
be destroyed either way, by legitimate or illegitimate patriarchal politics,
the bomb dropped in The Devil's Backbone remains a threatening,
uncanny presence, a permanent feature of the mis-en-scene, for, as
inexplicably as the reasons for an orphanage in the middle of an arid
Spanish plain being its target, the bomb doesn't explode upon impact.
Instead, it remains embedded in the central courtyard, where it becomes
psychologically linked to the boy Santi, who died the night it falls into
their world. At various times, its metal twinges, breathes, seeming to
whisper or speak, tick its warning, or to be a beating heart to the boys who
put their ears up to it. Like the helmet in Otranto, but more so, the bomb
comes from and refers to an "elsewhere," whose violence erupts into the
boys' present and threatens the security of their future. The Devil's
Backbone's premier scene thus underscores the film's gothic identifica-
tion and raises an important question: why choose the gothic to remember
and mediate a narrative of national, historical trauma?'
Although there are many competing definitions of the gothic, this
essay understands the gothic as a mode of symbolization that expressly
seeks to explore what a culture prohibits, fears, or desires to the point of
its repression, denial, or abjection (see Hogle 4). In works of gothic
imagination, the repressed or abjected material returns in a terrifying
guise and demands recognition. What a culture represses, of course,
changes over time, across cultures, and according to the imagination of
the artist; many studies of the gothic, though, have tended to focus on it
as a mode for exploring the sexually tabooed and the dysfunctions of the
nuclear family, especially its generational dynamics and normative
gender roles. There is a tradition of gothic literature and criticism,
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Association of Teachers of Advanced Composition (U.S.). JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004, periodical, 2004; (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc28644/m1/38/: accessed April 27, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .