Guillermo del Toro: ‘We can’t go through 150 emotions in the day in a sane manner’

Guillermo del Toro: ‘We can’t go through 150 emotions in the day in a sane manner’

1/23/2022 8:31:00 PM

Guillermo del Toro: ‘We can’t go through 150 emotions in the day in a sane manner’

The Oscar-winning Mexican director talks to Clarisse Loughrey about his new film ‘Nightmare Alley’, why Bradley Cooper insisted on its nude scene, and living in an era of solipsistic anxiety, where we spend all our time reacting to things

In fact, its story holds a certain disdain for that realm. Gresham’s novel concerns an ambitious carny, Stanton Carlisle (played byCate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper in ‘Nightmare Alley’Nightmare AlleySign up now for a 30-day free trialGresham, on some level, understood this. He lived a terribly sad life, riddled with illness, alcoholism, and deep unhappiness. His first wife, the poet Joy Davidman, left him for CS Lewis. After he was diagnosed with tongue cancer, he checked into the hotel where he wrote much of

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Nightmare Alley review – a neo-noir knockout from Guillermo del ToroBradley Cooper plays a carnival conman drawn into a dark underworld in this dazzling drama from the Mexican director Bradly cooper lacks the depth to pull of complex characters he’s a surface skimmer extremely difficult to suspend belief when he’s acting in anything over his range

Nightmare Alley review – a neo-noir knockout from Guillermo del ToroBradley Cooper plays a carnival conman drawn into a dark underworld in this dazzling drama from the Mexican director Bradly cooper lacks the depth to pull of complex characters he’s a surface skimmer extremely difficult to suspend belief when he’s acting in anything over his range

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movies he directed and the ill-fated Mimic from 1997, cut to shreds by Harvey Weinstein. The film, which he wrote together with film historian and screenwriter Kim Morgan (the pair have since married), is also the first of his films not to feature any kind of supernatural entity. In fact, its story holds a certain disdain for that realm. Gresham’s novel concerns an ambitious carny, Stanton Carlisle (played by Bradley Cooper in the film), who unlocks the powers of manipulation through learning the tricks of mentalism – that great grift which claims to see people’s innermost thoughts and awaiting futures, or which leads some to claim that they can speak to the dead. Cate Blanchett and Bradley Cooper in ‘Nightmare Alley’ (Searchlight Pictures) But Del Toro can’t quite bring himself to call Nightmare Alley a departure from his previous work. His chief concern lies not in the monstrous, but in the “monstrosity of what it is to be human” that we so fervently try to ignore. “To try to expunge the bad in order to think that an idealised version of us is possible is one of the cruellest exercises that we can do,” del Toro says. “And yet, we go back at it again and again in civilisation.” Access unlimited streaming of movies and TV shows with Amazon Prime Video Sign up now for a 30-day free trial Sign up It’s far too limiting to define his work only by its strangeness, by the lusciousness of his style or the streaks of blood-red violence that occasionally splatter across the screen. The care that del Toro puts into his creatures – demons, fairies, fauns and phantoms – not only proves his affection for the outsider figure, but shows an understanding that not all that much separates us from them. Gresham, on some level, understood this. He lived a terribly sad life, riddled with illness, alcoholism, and deep unhappiness. His first wife, the poet Joy Davidman, left him for CS Lewis. After he was diagnosed with tongue cancer, he checked into the hotel where he wrote much of Nightmare Alley and took his own life. In lieu of a suicide note, he was found with a series of business cards – printed on the back were the words “you would rather die than face the truth”. For Del Toro, “that dictum is basically Stan”. The very first thing he does in the film is bury a body beneath the floorboards, this thing that will warp him and force him into a strange state of duality – desperate to run away from himself but also desperate to be seen, to be found out. He is the monster and the human. Del Toro’s own life has seen its fair share of contradictions, strange and beautiful and sometimes tragic in nature. The director will talk about seeing dead and mutilated bodies while growing up in Guadalajara. He’ll talk about the large house he lived in after his father won the Mexican national lottery, where he kept rats, snakes and a crow as pets. He’ll talk about growing up in a strict Catholic household, with a tarot-reading mother and a father who seemed baffled by his son’s morbidity. He’ll talk about the time James Cameron, a friend of his, once came to his aid and helped pay the ransom when his father was kidnapped in 1997. ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’: the care that Del Toro puts into his creatures shows an understanding that not all that much separates us from them (Alamy) The director will speak about any topic with a sense of soul and clarity that makes you feel like you’ve climbed a mountain, scaled the stone steps, and found the hidden shrine just to hear him share a few of his thoughts. There’s no PR spin to how he talks. He is interested purely in his art. At the mention of Nightmare Alley ’s colour palette, he dives into an explanation of how Stan, the psychiatrist that seduces him (Cate Blanchett’s Lilith, every inch a femme fatale), and Enoch, a cyclopean fetus in a jar, are all connected. That’s why, apparently, Cooper himself suggested the film’s scene of full-frontal male nudity – a bathing scene, in which Stan is, like Enoch, suspended in liquid. “He could have done it with the underwear on,” del Toro explains. “But he said, no, I want to be this floating, deformed, little baby in the water.” Stan, by the end, only finds relief when he stops the pretence – when he accepts that he is, as del Toro describes, “not a sophisticated guy, not a superior intellect, not a lover boy with the heart of a teenager, but this wretch amalgam of all that”. The director, however, has found a simpler path to some quiet in all the chaos and the paradoxes. “I have gotten to the age of 57 to a place where I don’t feel lonely,” he explains. “I can be alone without feeling lonely.” Recommended