Curses and blessings—Coco centers around curses and blessings as much as it centers around family and aspirations (specifically aspirations for a musical career). Given that, it’s not hard to see how the movie can provide some rich opportunity for good discussions about faith and character.
The movie starts with Miguel saying he thinks his family is cursed. He goes on to explain his generational backstory, one in which his great, great grandfather left his family to pursue his career as a musician. Imelda, his great, great, grandmother at that point went on to forge her own career as a shoe-maker, providing for herself, her daughter and future generations. She was bitter, however, never loved again, and never allowed any music in the family again, blaming it for her husband’s loss.
As the movie goes on, it’s tempting to feel that the generational curse was passed down from a man who chose career over family, but the real curse is in Imelda’s unforgiveness. Her bitterness made her a controlling, dominating, bitter matriarch who stifled her offspring unless they fit into her mold. She was fearful and ruled her family with fear, fear of being abandoned again.
Miguel loves music, but has to hide this from his family. On the Day of the Dead, he ends up in the land of the dead, and in order to return to the land of the living, he needs Imelda’s blessing. She decides to give it ONLY on the condition that he give up music forever. This raises some interesting questions about blessings. She is clearly selfish and using the idea of a blessing to control and manipulate – which is clearly wrong. However, we see in the Bible where God promises blessings to those who obey His commands, and curses to those who rebel (see Deuteronomy 30). This isn’t about manipulation, however, but about consequences. I’ve been wrestling with this—what exactly is the difference? When should a blessing be freely given, and when is it acceptable for it to be attached to a condition? I don’t have a clear answer for this, but to be sure, Imelda’s motives are selfish and that is a good indicator that something is wrong.
It’s easy to see that Imelda was wrong, especially as we find out that she falsely judged her husband all those years. It’s not, however, as easy to see how wrong Miguel was. If she’d given her blessing to him at first, he would have felt justified in following after his hero whose motto was “Seize the moment [no matter the cost].” He didn’t value his family as he should have, because he felt they were holding him back. He had elevated music (career, passion, aspirations) over family and relationships, just as he’d been told his great, great grandfather had. It took meeting his great, great grandfather for him to begin to see the value in family, the cost of regret, the hollow pursuit of fame. He had made music a god to be served over all else in his life. Once his priorities were realigned, and music became a tool to serve him (and not the other way around), then it was something that could be a blessing and not a curse in his life. THEN, he could receive Imelda’s blessing without conditions.
The Bible says to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and then all these things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). In the movie, family relationships are the most important (this is very much a cultural value), and family relationships are important, but they aren’t primary. The lesson is valuable, but we need to replace it with our relationship with God. Not everyone has a good family like Miguel had. And even good families cannot be first in our lives—God comes first, above everything. But the principle is good—once Miguel got his priorities right and put relationships first (should have been his relationship to God and obedience to His will), THEN music and everything else could be added to him. Had he not gotten his priorities right, however, giving him music would have been destructive to his life.
One final thought about forgiveness and assumptions. Imelda assumed the worst about her husband. That assumption caused bitterness which held her and her family in bondage for generations. And, in the end, to make matters worse, she was wrong. Love does not assume the worst, it hopes for the best and it covers over wrongs. Had she acted in love towards her husband, she would not have brought generations of pain and bitterness to her family. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free and brings life.
The great, great grandmother held a grudge against her husband and music that she passed down through the generations (so strongly that Miguel would say they were cursed), all because she assumed the worst about her missing husband. She was wrong about him. Not only did her false assumption hurt herself, but it hurt her family for generations. When we assume the worst about people, when we judge them harshly and take away a woundedness from our disappointments, we hurt ourselves and everyone around us. We become the living dead. Grace and forgiveness sets us all free. It brings life. It is interesting to note that she wasn’t able to give Miguel her blessing until she had forgiven her husband and been healed from her bitterness. The call to love others, to hope for and assume the best, to even cover over their wrongs…it’s not just about setting us free and bringing life to us…it’s about those around us. This is one of those conditional blessings…when we do this, we are blessed and able to bless others. When we don’t, we bring curses upon ourselves and others. And those blessings and curses, they last for generations, so, as Deuteronomy 30 says, “God sets life and death, blessings and curses before us, so choose life so that you and your offspring may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Questions for Discussion:
- What does it mean to be part of a family / IN a family?
- When is it okay to have conditions for blessings, (i.e. I’ll pay for college if you keep your GPA at an acceptable level), and when is that a wicked manipulation (i.e. Imelda saying she’d only give her blessing to Miguel if he gave up music)?
- How might it have been bad for Miguel to receive Imelda’s blessing earlier in the story, before he’d seen the true ugliness of his hero?
- The Bible says to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and then all these things can be added unto you. What does that mean? How does Miguel’s journey follow this verse? What things are you tempted to seek first in your life?
- How might things have been different for Miguel’s family if Imelda had hoped for the best in her husband (i.e. if she had considered that it was possible he wanted to come back but something happened to him)? Is there a time you can think of when you have assumed the worst about someone, and then realized you were wrong?
- Is there any bitterness in your life? How is it affecting others around you? How can you choose to love (i.e. hope for the best, and/or cover over the wrong) and how might that set you free and bring life to you and people around you?