There’s a Mexican cultural belief that says we each die three deaths. The first is our normal death, when our body ceases to function. The second comes when we’re buried in the ground, out of sight. And the third and final death happens when there’s no one left who remembers us.
And while most of us have that fear of death on a basic, primal level, the fear of our final death, the fear of being forgotten, is a much more complex feeling.
So, of course, Pixar decided to tackle exactly that feeling. The studio is no stranger to addressing complicated emotions, and especially those that go with loss, change, and death.
Pixar’s newest, called Coco, is set against the backdrop of Dia de Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead, when families display photos of their departed loved ones, remembering all of those who’ve passed on, and allowing their spirits to come and visit the living for this one single day out of the year. Our hero is a young boy, Miguel, who dreams of being a musician, but whose family has a strict rule against anything musical, as Miguel’s great-great grandfather abandoned the family so many years ago in order to fulfill his dream of becoming a famous musician.
Through a series of events that don’t actually involve dying, Miguel ends up being teleported to the land of the dead, in search of this great-great grandfather who struck out on his own because of his love of music. And if the movie was already interesting to look at, as all Pixar movies are, the land of the dead is where it explodes into a true visual delight, with layer upon intricate layer and vibrant, lush colors that almost don’t seem possible.
Of course, this is a movie for adults and children, so it’s often lighthearted and perfectly fun. But still, it treats its feelings with sophistication: The fear the dead have of being forgotten is very real, and stands in for our own reckoning with mortality and what we leave behind when we go. It’s tender and kind, but doesn’t shy away from the reality we all must face. When our time comes, who will remember us?