The Book of Life is a fun, creative story which offers a look into the Hispanic culture and some really solid inspirational messages. While it’s not coming from a Christian worldview, it provides an easy segue into that discussion. Another bonus is that it does all of this without the rude humor and subtle sexual innuendos that are found in so many “kids” movies.
The basic plot is that a group of delinquent kids go to a museum for a tour. There they are told about the Book of Life which tells the stories of mankind. In particular, they are told the story of how the gods (they aren’t called that, but that’s what they are) place a bet about whether or not a young Maria will choose the conquering hero or the sensitive singer for her mate. As the story unfolds, the museum kids learn some life-changing lessons about life, love and character.
In this story, the world is held together by two opposing forces: a kind, loving woman that is sees good in mankind—La Muerte, and a crotchety man who sees bad in mankind—Xibalba. The two are (supposedly) held in balance by another character, the Candle Maker—who is played by Ice Cube if that gives you any idea…he’s delightful but rather benign. La Muerte and Xibalba are at odds with each other. Actually, in the end, we find out they were lovers who quarreled. They make a bet (apparently they do this often) about the nature of mankind (whether it is good or evil, essentially), which rests entirely on the actions of three young children and their choices as they grow. It’s a bit absurd, as one of the museum kids points out, “So these ancient gods picked three little kids to, like, represent the world?”
The good and kind La Muerte wins the bet. Her hero wins Maria’s heart. Rather than getting angry, however, Xibalba softens and returns to his wife (I’m assuming she’s his wife)—and we realize he wasn’t really evil, after all. In this respect, the story felt as if it was a story about marriage, separation, reconciliation…and the kids who are caught in the middle. But, focusing on the spiritual dynamic, the implications are that man’s nature is good, and evil isn’t really all that evil.
I don’t know that, for a kid’s movie, this is bad. It’s good for us to have hope and to try to see the best in people. Ultimately, love does win. Jesus conquered death and sin. It is not, however, true that there is no true evil, nor that Satan will turn out to be a good guy in the end who is merely, at this time, disgruntled at being relegated to hell. It is also not true that our basic nature is good. We have a sin nature that must be dealt with.
The world is not held together by two opposing forces. There is one force, God, who holds all things together. Satan has been given a time to reign on this earth, but as a subordinate, not an equal. He has been given this time because we invited him into our world back in the Garden of Eden.
- Who represents God in this movie? How are they like God, and/or not like God—according to the Bible?
- How would you like to have gods like La Muerte and Xibalba running the world? Why would that be a good thing or bad thing?
- Are La Muerte and Xibalba wise and kind and perfect like God is supposed to be? Are they acting in love for mankind, or are they using mankind for their own interests?
“Everything was like the land above, but it was more colorful and more vibrant.” This was how the Land of the Remembered was explained. It’s not the Biblical concept of Heaven, in that God was not there. It was just a big familial party of people who are remembered—but it did parallel Heaven in some wonderful ways.
- How was the Land of the Remembered like heaven? Did it make you think differently about Heaven? How? (Remember how things were like earth, but “more”?)
- Manolo enjoyed reuniting with the heroes of his childhood, the men who had done great things before him. Who do you think you might be reunited with (or get to meet) in Heaven?
Manolo has to fight a bull—a bull that was the culmination of all the bulls the bullfighters in his family had ever killed—and that bull was mad. He was mad with the built up anger of hundreds who had been meaninglessly slaughtered. Manolo, who had been told all his life that real men didn’t apologize, chose not to fight. He chose to apologize. He sang a soothing song of repentance to the bull, confessing the wrongs his family had committed and asking forgiveness. “If you can forgive and forget, love can truly live.” The bulls fire (literally, he was a raging bull of furious fire) was extinguished with that song. Manolo didn’t have to kill the bull to defeat the bull. There was nothing to fight once the fire was gone. They had said Manolo would be the best bullfighter of all—and he was. In that moment he fought every bull his family had ever fought, even the ones that had killed all of his ancestors—and he beat them all, but in a wholly unique way.
The Bible says that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Whereas his ancestors’ responses were harsh ones that had stirred up the anger of the bulls, Manolo’s gentle answer diffused them.
- Why was Manolo encouraged to fight the bulls when he didn’t want to? Have you ever been encouraged to fight when you didn’t want to? What did you do?
- Confession and repentance led to forgiveness. Have you ever been in a situation where someone’s anger was diffused because of someone’s confession and repentance?
It had seemed that Manolo was afraid of fighting the bulls, but that wasn’t it. He didn’t want to fight the bulls because he didn’t feel it was right to kill them. The movie says that his true fear was being himself. I disagree—I think it was disappointing his father (by being himself). In either case, Manolo’s problems weren’t solved by running from his fears. They were solved when he faced them and conquered them. The same is true for Joaquin. He appeared to be brave, but his bravery was dependent on the magic medal he had which kept him safe. Because he had hidden behind his medal, he had never learned to face his fears of being hurt, of dying, of failing and/or disappointing the adoring public. He, too, was afraid the world would find out that he was less than they thought he was.
It’s very tempting to want to please others. It’s hard to be honest about who we are sometimes, for fear people won’t approve, especially when people think we are more than we really are. The problem is, the more we hide from the truth, the scarier it becomes. When Joaquin was little, he was naturally brave. Once he had the medal, his boldness increased, true, but his bravery began to decrease, or at least, his growth in that area was stunted. He didn’t have to become braver because he now knew he couldn’t be hurt. He no longer had to mature or to face his fears. The medal didn’t really help. It stunted his growth. (We could say the same of Manolo whose growth as a musician was stunted because he spent so much time learning to be a bullfighter instead of a working on his music.)
The Bible says the cure to fear isn’t to just “be brave” although that helps. The real cure to fear is love. “Perfect love casts out fear.” If Manolo had felt his dad would love him even if he wasn’t a bullfighter, Manolo wouldn’t have been afraid of being a musician. This is why Maria’s love for him was so powerful. Around her, he wasn’t afraid to be a musician.
- What are you afraid of? How might perfect love get rid of your fear?
 Proverbs 15:1
 1 John 4:18