‘Coco’ and the alternative lesson it offers us.


A little while ago we shared a trailer to a kid’s movie, called ‘Coco’. Anything that deals with death in a positive way for children must be a good thing… right? Well, in this case it was very right.

On New Years Days my family and I went to see ‘Coco’. Dedicated as we were, we arrived at the movie theatre in Hobart at 9.10am and we were the only ones there. I’m not sure about you, but going to see a movie in an empty theatre does not provide me with complete confidence that this movie is worth the money paid to watch it!

By the time we left, I was feeling quite glad to have had our own private viewing.

‘Coco’ is the story of a boy whose family has a generations old hatred of music and he has music in his heart. It is where he finds his true happiness. In desperation he finds himself in the tomb of his hero and from there plummeted into the land of the dead on the famous night of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).

Now a lot of people recognise the so called ‘sugar skulls’ and enjoy the dress up and ‘spooky’ elements of the day of the dead, but a little like Halloween (the origins of which lay in the ancient Pagan festival of Samhain) the true meaning seems to have been lost somewhere along the years. ‘Coco’ attempts – successfully so – to explain to it’s audience with a childlike wonder and spectacle, the meaning and purpose of one of the world’s most famous death related celebrations.

The theme through this movie is family, love and connectedness, care and concern, tradition and loyalty even through the tough times. Especially through the tough times. But it also shows that ultimately, traditions can change and be altered to fit a changing world and a growing family without destroying the sense of toughness which lies at the heart of family.

Perhaps the most prolific point of the film is about the dead, our ancestors – all of those who have come before us and paved the way for the life and the family we have today. In ‘Coco’, ancestors are not just a distant memory they are a part of the family’s every day life and they believe that if you don’t remember your ancestors they are lost to you forever, along with their stories and history. While the dead are remembered in the hearts and minds of the living they are never too far away and on the night of Dia de los Muertos if you place a photo of them in the family home or on their grave, that is the night they can cross over and be with their living once more. Marigold flowers are spread as the path they will follow home and offerings and tributes are left for them as well to take with them when they return to the land of the dead.

Now obviously as a kid’s movie, this is not a detailed or in-depth explanation, but it serves more than one important purpose. Firstly, in terms of understanding culture and religion this movie gets people thinking – kids included – it raises the awareness that there’s something more to this day of the dead stuff beyond funky face paint, Frida Kahlo dress up and sugar cookies.

But there’s an even more important message in this film I feel. On several occasions in this film the dead are much more afraid of the living than the living are of the dead. That’s important. The little alive boy who finds himself in the land of the dead is a scarier figure to the dead than all the skeletons are to him. No matter the age of the child – or adult – watching this film, the message that the dead are not scary is clear. Even if all the nuances of the ritual and religion are lost on people, the idea that you don’t need to be afraid of the dead is present and repeated.

Why is that important?

Simply, as we are moving away from commercial funeral homes and placing the care of our dead back in the sacred hands of the family and friend that have loved that person in life, the message that the dead are not a thing to fear is vital. The dead are not scary. They are not dangerous. They are not in need of professional assistance and procedures. They are the vessel that carried your loved one through life and instead of fear we can approach our dead with reverence. With kindness. With care. With a desire to honour them in death as we respected them in life. We can own that journey and those traditions ourselves, as a family and as a community. We can remove the stigma of the dead being dirty, scary, hazardous and unclean return to a truly traditional way of dealing with our dead with authenticity and honesty as part of our journey of healing from grief and bereavement. As a bonus to this, you will also find that you not only come out the other side of this journey with a much more whole and peaceful bereavement, but you also will not be presented with a $10,000 bill at the end of it either.

Family lead funerals.

It starts with teaching people that the dead are not scary.

See the trailer here –

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