Saturday, October 27, 2012

"La Llorona"

On many a dark night people would see her walking along the riverbank and crying for her children, reads the opening text of episode nine (season two). This Halloween episode is dedicated to the Mexican legend of La Llorona (the weeping woman). Read the Wikipedia entry about variations of this ghostly Latin American tale HERE.

Episode Summary (from Wikipedia):  A series of horrifying child attack and abductions at Halloween pairs Nick and Hank with Valentina Espinosa, a mysterious detective, and Juliette, who joins as the Spanish translator. The more Nick digs into the case, the more he realizes the pattern of the kidnapping matches those in the famed Hispanic horror story La Llorona, a story with its roots intertwined with his own family’s history. Meanwhile, Monroe celebrates the holiday in fine style as he teaches the neighborhood bullies a lesson.

Grimm on Grimm: While fairy tales around the world are teeming with mermaids and water spirits, the legend of La Llorona features a somewhat different link to water. This supernatural spirit is said to wander near the river or the ocean crying. Both her tears and the local topography are two important sources of water that are central to the story. This contrasting pair functions as a microcosm/macrocosm allegory of life: on a small scale, we are made of water and this liquid state harbors human life in its earliest stages. At the larger, macrocosmic level, we are surrounded by powerful, often tempestuous bodies of water that  occupy most of our planet. The latter is life sustaining on a grand scale (source of food, recall the revered annual flooding of the Nile as confirmation of the harvest, etc.), and viewed as the source of life in many creation myths around the world (not to mention water's real-life evolutionary significance), but is also something to be feared for its unknown depths, functioning nicely as a reference to the unconscious mind of the mother in this story. The water of life, symbolized by La Llorona's fertility--we learn that she had three children--is harshly contrasted with the river waters that facilitated La Llorona's drowning of her own offspring (in an act of desperation to secure the love of a man), echoing again the microcosm (birth canal, water of life represented by her children ) and the macrocosm (drowning in deadly river or ocean water). Contrasting the micro/macro can also be read as loss of the individual to society (see below for more correlations between women and repression within the tale that fit this interpretation).

There's certainly room for exploring multiple topics within La Llorona legend, including the role of the mother and family structure (immediately evoking the Greek stories of  Medea and Lamia), as well as the colonial history of Mexico (symbols of death, repression of indigenous culture, etc.). One of the things that strikes me in particular is the importance of sound. In both the episode and the traditional story, witnesses hear the sobs of La Llorona. Banshees, Celtic omens of death who wail when someone is about die, immediately spring to mind for their parallel links to sound and death. In this vein, crying, as represented in the release of suppressed emotions or outrage, could function with the theme of colonialism, an important aspect in the history of both Mexico and Ireland (stronghold of the Banshee legend). The use of sound also serves to draw attention or achieve results, which certainly occurs in the Grimm episode: the first boy is kidnapped when his father is distracted by La Llorona's tears, allowing her plan of abduction to succeed. 

It should not go unnoticed that these mythic creatures, whose wails and cries strike fear in their listeners, are all women. Crying is traditionally represented as a female trait, the "weaker sex" having been historically assigned to the domain of hysteria, unlike the "rational" male mind. Unable to speak using words (or is it simply that no one listens?), their desperate cries are unleashed on the world, followed by catastrophe. 

Speaking of sound, here in the realm of fairy tales, where we are free to explore the depths of the unconscious mind, language and thought need not be entirely logical. Thus, sounds may hold a greater importance in this dream-like space than they do in real life. Perhaps a wail is worth a thousand words...

For those interested in other representations of the La Llorona legend, I recommend several Mexican films that I've viewed recently:

KM 31: Kilometre 31 (film - Mexico - 2006) : film loosely based on motifs found in the legend
La Llorona (film - Mexico - 1960) : classic B&W horror film inspired by the legend
La Llorona (film - Mexico - 1933) : more classic horror based on the legend

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