I recently watched the movie Coco last weekend with my son and like every good movie, it touched my soul. I wasn’t expecting that to happen. I heard Coco was a movie about the Mexican tradition of Day of the Dead, but I didn’t really know what to expect. There was something beautiful about the depiction of Dia de Los Muertos, that the movie brought to life, and it got me thinking about something in a very new way.
The bulk of this will not focus on why Coco was a great movie, because that can be summarized in a few phrases; great writing, great acting, great story. However for me the reason Coco is such a great movie is how it makes you think about family, life and immortality in a whole new way.
For those who have not seen the movie, the bare bones plot of Coco is the following. Miguel , the main character, is a young Mexican boy who is trying to escape the trappings and weights of following in his families tradition. He has a passion to be a musician, but his family expects him to follow in the traditions of his family and become the most exciting of professions; a shoemaker. His parents were shoe makers, his uncles and aunts were shoemakers, his great grand mother was a shoemaker, so it followed that Miguel must be a shoemaker, and kill his dream of becoming a musician. His Grandmother, reminds him that is what his great great grandmother would have wanted. His great great grandmother Imelda had banned music as if it was some type of “witch craft”, so Miguel had to secretly play, but never in in the presence of his family. Miguel could never kill his passion, but his passion for music almost killed him and would take him into the land of the dead.
The day of the dead is the one day where the spirits of the dead ancestors can come and visit those who are still alive, however in Coco the only way the dead can visit is if the family has an ofrenda; an alter with food offerings and pictures of the dead. Miguel screws things up for his ancestors as he loses the photo of the matriarch in search of his recently discovered musician grandfather. With the photo of the matriarch gone from the altar, Miguel’s great great grandmother is left behind in the land of the dead unable to pass through. She ends up discovering Miguel is at fault, and encounters Miguel, who by magic has entered the land of the dead in search of his great grandfather, the “secret” musician.
The land of the dead is a wonderful and beautiful city, with its own outcasts, and heroes. There are spirit animals, and parties and celebrations all leading up unto the greatest party that culminates at the end of the day of the dead. Life is not eternal in the land of the dead. One only lives as long as you are memorialized by someone who is alive. This is where the importance of family comes in, and in the movie it becomes the driving theme as Hector needs to ensure that his grandmother Coco does not forget her father, who Hector finally gets to meet in the day of the dead.
Hector finally returns home, and the history of his family, and returns the photo to its proper place on the family altar, with a new addition. The movie ends in joyous celebration.
One of the big themes in Coco that relates to the gospel, is the central character Miguel’s quest to know about himself through his great grandfather. This quest in a very limited way mirrors the quest we all have to know who we are and why we are here. It is our quest to know God, the father. Miguel knew that if he could find his father, it would validate who he was inside. He knew that his families answers about who he was and where he came from was missing something. There was a truth about him that he had to find out. We all are in a quest to know who we really are, what makes us tick, what is our destiny, what are we here to do. The only real way we can find that is if we find it in Jesus, who shows us the Father.
The world says all kinds of things about why we are here. It essentially says life is accidental, and our ancestors were monkeys, and we will live our meaningless, but extremely fortunate lives and then die in insignificance. Because life is so short the world tells you to live it up and seize the day. Little do they realize that we have a father here who has been hidden, but offers us keys to find him, and in finding him we will discover not just about our life here, but the life in the forever after. Look at what Paul writes to the church in Ephesians 2
Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. 2 You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. 3 All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!) 6 For he raised us from the dead along with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 7 So God can point to us in all future ages as examples of the incredible wealth of his grace and kindness toward us, as shown in all he has done for us who are united with Christ Jesus.
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
The Bible tells us that we are living in the land of the dead now, and that earth is just a mere shadow of the world to come. The only way we enter that world is if we remember and have an encounter with Jesus, if he is on the altar of our hearts, not only does he visit us, but he stated he will take us with him in the new earth. If we deny Christ, if we place other things, success, wealth, relationships, other gods, or even saints above him, we will not enter the new world.
In Coco the dead live only as long as their memory lives, and though that works as a metaphor, in real life it is not true. We all exist and our known by God. We were made to live forever. The question is whether we live with him or we are banished away from the light and joy of the world.
Heaven is real, Hell is also real. Our lives have consequences, we must live with purpose, and the only way we can find true life, abundant life that passes beyond the grave is to find that life by looking to our father. The father God answers us in Jesus Christ. Scripture tells us we are to die to the things, the dreams and lies of the world, and when we do that in Christ, Christ promises to give us new life.
So what happens after we die. Scripture points to the fact that those who have put their trust in Christ will wake up and be with him, while those who have not believed will wake up to judgment. So there are some family we will not see again, at least not see them in the best of circumstances.
There are things that I want to incorporate from Coco, not the altar but the passing down of stories. I believe our families on earth are one of the greatest blessings we have. However I have another family, a heavenly one. Our spiritual families are of huge importance to us, and in fact are the tools God uses to help preserve our memories of Jesus. We experience God in a greater way when we worship God. When we worship together we share how God has been faithful, not just in saving our souls, but in the daily benefits, of how he gave us peace, he brought healing in our lives, he helped us overcome unforgiveness, unbelief, or blessed us with a new job or even a new child.
Underscoring all of this is our need to appreciate history, and those who went before us. This pertains to our own families, and our spiritual ones as well. Celebrate your history, share your stories and and hear the words of Jesus, and also from Hector, and our loved ones who encourage us to “Remember Me”.