JAC: A Journal of Composition Theory, Volume 24, Number 2, 2004 Page: 308
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Santi's death, resulting from an intimidating push that killed instead of
merely stunning him, to the randomness of the bomb falling in their
courtyard, unexploded yet threatening to explode at any moment, to the
most accidental outcome of them all, that the explosion in the courtyard
kills some boys and not others?
Finally, a stasis, a lack of (narrative) movement associated with an
unresolved sameness accrues-first and foremost-around that
unexploded bomb, the "leftover payload" after the war within the
orphanage itself has ended, whose destructive potential has yet to be
known or understood. But it also persists in the image of the fetuses in the
jars, whose deformity is fixed in formaldehyde and whose meaning
requires the imposition of an explanatory narrative that the film retreats
from offering. Is the devil's backbone a sign of divine disfavor, of
poverty, or simply an accident? So, too, the film's insistence on the
presence of ghosts-whether the ghost of Santi or Dr. Casares-points to
a deeper ambivalence about intelligibility: to the desire and need to make
meaning of catastrophic history, of those things about the past (here,
one's national identity) that demand symbolization. This need to symbol-
ize what is traumatic is inextricable from the need to tell history in such
a way that it bears upon and means something for the present. Is there
a narrative capable of making sense of these (children's) sufferings?
The film's last words-a virtual repetition of the monologue at the
beginning-withhold a conclusion that would put the ghosts it has
conjured to rest:
What is a ghost? A tragedy, condemned to repeat itself? A moment ofpain,
perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion
suspended in time-like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in
Here, the script traces the way the ghosts of the Spanish Civil War that it
has summoned up point to something still unsymbolized about national
history.'9 It has put one ghost to rest, Santi, but another, Dr. Casares,
haunts the orphanage in his place. It is from his vantage point that the
camera's last shot takes in the boys as they make their way into an
uncertain future, suggesting that the events of the past frame the psychic
terrain of the present. The Devil's Backbone ends with an acknowledg-
ment that the trauma of that war feels uncanny in the way it simply will
not let go of the present, that its dead are too many to separate from the
living or to be forgotten, that the emotions of that time persist, suspended
Here’s what’s next.
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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/m1/54/: accessed May 28, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .