Last week we took a tour through one of the most unusual but equally fascinating exhibits we have ever seen — Guillermo del Toro: At Home with the Monsters. The Minneapolis Institute of Art has increasingly been putting itself on the national museum map by stretching the concept of what a museum is, who it is for and what is considered “art.”
The exhibit is chock-full of personal objects from Guillermo del Toro’s home, appropriately named Bleak House. Director of Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy and many more films, these objects celebrate his creative muses and how he has become the master of the modern monster. There are life-size statues of his literary and cinematic heroes, gruesome paintings, a wide variety of curio, comic books, musings and drawings from his notebooks — just like we suggest that our members do with an idea journal. Some objects are worth millions while others would be barely worth a few dollars on eBay, but all of them are priceless to del Toro.
So why did we take our members through this sinister exhibit? To put it short: there is utility to monsters. Everybody needs an antagonist. When we are on our Hero’s Journey of making things great (or making great things), we need something to overcome. That could be a competitor, a person, or even something as grandiose as global warming. Whatever it may be, the antagonist is something to surmount, and it’s a driver for making things better.
Anyone who visited At Home with the Monsters knows that del Toro believes in truly evil monsters. But he also believes that there are monsters that are hoping to be understood. This more sympathetic view of what a monster is dates back to Mary Shelley’s authorship of Frankenstein in 1818. Her monster was born pure, but the reaction to him from “civilized” people was so hostile that he adopted the hostility and became an actual monster. Frankenstein, an amalgam of body parts, was not classically beautiful, his presence was unfamiliar and thus upon first impression our interpretation is one of fear. It’s natural to convert the unfamiliar into a monster, but if we take the time to look deeper, a more sympathetic view may emerge and many things that we perceive to be a threat will reveal that they aren’t monstrous at all.
We think that that’s what del Toro is asking us to do: reframe what a monster is and what role it plays; to distinguish real evil from something or someone that is simply different. In these polemic times where nearly everything can be politicized, we challenge you (and ourselves) to question if those monsters under our beds, in our closets and walking around our neighborhoods are really monsters. Are they antagonists for us to overcome or are they merely people who are simply unfamiliar to our current state of experiences?