“And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Malachi 4:6
I think this could be the unofficial tagline for Coco, the new Pixar, which you absolutely should see because it is beautifully animated and absolutely lovely. And it also happens to have some powerful, spiritual themes running through it. I’ll focus specifically on the ideas of memory and how those are related to our responsibilities to our ancestors and how those memories and ancestors may influence our lives. There will be some spoilers for Coco that follow, so if you haven’t seen it and are worried about that, probably stop now and come back at some future date when you’ve done the right thing and seen this beautiful, moving film.
Coco follows Miguel, a Mexican boy that wants to play music, which his family has forbidden due to some actions of his ancestors (abandoning their family in favor of a career in music). It’s the Day of the Dead and he ends up in the world of the dead and needs to work with his ancestors to make it back to the world of the living. In the film, the dead can cross into the world of the living on the Day of the Dead, if their picture has been placed on someone’s ofrenda. Once no one in the land of the living remembers a person, they drift away in what they call the final death.
There are some pretty obvious parallels here to the idea of the heart of the children turning to the fathers and what that means. If the children remember their ancestors, their fathers and mothers, they can feel them in their lives and those people can cross into the land of the living. They are literally kept alive by their children’s memories of them.
What I found most striking and profound was that when Miguel returns to the land of the living and works to give life to Hector by singing “Remember Me” to Coco, not only does she begin to remember Hector, but more life comes to her. Our remembrance of our ancestors then gives life to them, but also to us.
Now, I don’t think that the afterlife necessarily resembles this exactly, but I think the idea behind it is powerful and one that resonates with Mormon theology. It seems that thinking of connecting with our ancestors as something that not only gives them power and helps them, but also something that empowers us and imbues us with new life is a beautiful theological idea. Memory then is something that turns us towards each other and gives to each of us. It’s not only that I need to remember my ancestors for them, but that remembering them is for me too.
Perhaps there is something even more to it, I don’t know. I mean, the verse ends with the promise that if we don’t turn our hearts to each other that the earth will be smote with a curse, which could take any number of forms. Maybe it means that the living die and the dead are forgotten and die again. I don’t know.
Anyway. I love this idea of linking our lives to those that have come before and that as we learn their stories and really appreciate who they are and were that we can be more in touch with who we are, that our personal sense of identity is derived from the lives and attributes of our ancestors even if we don’t know them. A beautiful film about family and connection and memory and the importance of memory to keeping us all alive. We’re all bound up in this together.