Written by Donovan Wan
This timeless tragedy is set during the first World War where a masterful carpenter by the name of Geppeto would lose his son to an accidental bombing over a small town in Italy. The seasons pass, but Geppeto could not accept what is left of his lonesome life that he has to continue living. Out to sooth his own blinding heartbreak, Geppeto tries to create a new “son” of his own. During a drunken rampage, Geppeto clumsily carves a boy puppet out of wood with bits of nails still jutting out of its unpolished back.
A mystical angel of sorts called the Wood Sprite is empathetic to the carpenter’s predicament, and decides to bring the wooden boy to life. Pinocchio soon garners unnecessary attention from different key figures of this small town, each of them tempted to use the wooden boy for their own selfish beliefs. These key figures do not guide Pinocchio onto the path of becoming a real boy, but instead a mere puppet in their grand scheme of things.
The story of Pinocchio has been told countless times, but this rendition feels more complex than its predecessors. The element of spirits and fantasy has always been a large part of the story, but instead the narrative follows each key character closely. This allows the audience to empathize with everyone’s motivations. Therein lies the dilemma of understanding one’s immoral actions, and yet it reminds us how human it is to be driven to the extremes. The horrors of Del Toro’s version is more than just facing the peril of being inside a large whale; it is about the immovable obstacles that lie in the path of Pinocchio to become a real living boy: people.
These individuals see Pinocchio as the strong wooden boy who does not have something they have, which is the fear of death. They want to use Pinocchio to cheat their own mortality. Besides the fact that these key characters are older grown men who seem lost in their way of life, here is a closer look: A Nazi-like figure called Podestà wants Pinocchio to fight for his cause when he himself is not seen in battle; The devious showman Count Volpe intends to use Pinocchio as a way to become rich and famous, but really it is not to grow poor and forgotten; Geppeto himself had to turn to making a wooden puppet to comfort his own loneliness.
This is where the concept turns on itself. Pinocchio’s own curse is his own immortality, what a plot twist. The idea of living forever without consequence because there is really not much to lose when there is no end, nothing really becomes of value. Imagine there is no such thing as death, there is no time dedicated to paying attention to the important things because time does not even apply. Thus it was hard for Pinocchio to find his own humanity. The point of being human is to be able to empathize with each other’s mortality, the fragile nature that lies in all of us. It was such a delightful concept to explore in this film – the fantastical premise slowly morphs into a deeply reflective character study which in turn helps us better appreciate the time we all have left.
Pinocchio is the denial of death in all of us. The side of us that wants to skydive, try fugu sashimi or fall in love. The moments where we take a leap of faith and do the things our hearts tell us to do even though we may not come back the same. In the end, these become the adventures we remember and cherish. This path is what Pinocchio chooses to take. And that is how he truly becomes human, not by becoming flesh and blood. But by understanding how temporary everything is, and being able to appreciate that fact. The acceptance of one’s mortality, that is.
This review is published as an extension of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society.
About the Author: Donovan Wan studied Film at the School of Art, Design and Media. He spends his free time freelancing on shoots and doing voice overs for commercials. He is an aspiring cinematographer and hopes to continue making short films or perhaps a feature someday.
About the Movie:
Director: Guillermo del Toro and Mark Gustafson
Cast: Gregory Mann, Ewan McGregor, Finn Wolfhard, Tilda Swinton
Country: United States and Mexico
Runtime: 117 Minutes
Synopsis: A father’s wish magically brings a wooden boy to life in Italy, giving him a chance to care for the child. However, the two of them have to struggle to find a place for themselves as Italy becomes embroiled in fascism.
Catch Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio on Netflix now.