Journal of Romance Studies

Permanent hauntings: spectral fantasies and national trauma in Guillermo del Toro’s El espinazo del diablo [The Devil’s Backbone]

Journal of Romance Studies (2012), 12, (1), 56–71.

Abstract

To admit the presence of a ghost is to establish a relationship between fantasy and national trauma. Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone(2001) symbolically locates in an orphanage the struggling sides of the Spanish Civil War and tries to come to terms with the ghosts of the historical past by means of the repetition of a traumatic event triggered by the presence of the revenant, or ghost. The ghost as haunting makes the subject relive what has been silenced, allowing this to be intrinsically related with trauma, a psychical action that compulsively repeats events that have marked the subject’s unconscious.

By taking fantasy as a scenario of desire, the ghost becomes the pivotal element in the film to establish a narrative form where the subject is able to define itself in a community with a shared traumatic past. The film screens this ghostly fantasy as a permanent structure that mediates the necessity for war trauma in Spain’s contemporary national identity. The ghosts in del Toro’s film do not tell how to live with them once they are found; on the contrary, they admit the fact that they have always already been there and that they need to stay to ideologically support the notion of a Spanish nation.

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Ibarra, Enrique Ajuria