Fairytales are born from lessons we wish to pass onto the next generation.
They carry warnings, deep hidden secrets that sometimes even the adults telling the tales have long forgotten. There is always something new to find in these fairytales, but there are also reminders of things that we try to forget. Whether due to the cruel reality within the lessons or because we can’t fathom a time when we will need to rely on these lessons to face such cruelty.
Fairytales are inherently traumatic despite their deep roots within the realm of fantasy. Sometimes the lessons they give us spring from blood, chaos, and – unfortunately – death. These are life’s lessons and life is painful. But, without life’s lessons, we would not be able to triumph and overcome the obstacles in our path. We are reminded of these lessons in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID.
Having grown up in a time where the true power of fairytales has been diluted down to corporate animated fantasies of another kind, there is a refreshingly terrifying feeling of awe in seeing the depths and darkness of fairytales explored onscreen by director and writer Issa López. The film’s story is reminiscent of a time when we had to teach children in less painfully real ways what the world can actually be like. And, more importantly, these lessons we taught always pondered on the grey areas within the realm of fairytales, grey areas that aren’t generally explored nowadays.
The backdrop López utilizes in the film helps with the exploration of the greyness fairytales reside in. The film takes place in the midst of devastating drug wars in Mexico, something that here in the States isn’t really focused outside of the political realm. The film follows a group of orphaned children, orphaned due to the actions of those in power leading these criminal wars. Estrella, played wonderfully by young actress Paola Lara, is the storyteller of the film, starting the film writing her own fairytale that teaches how TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID. It is through the actions of Estrella and the other kids that we learn important lessons in this tale.
Earlier in the film, Estrella is given three magical wishes in the form of chalk from her school teacher. These are given to her in the middle of a school shooting, meant to be a source of focus and comfort while dealing with the reality at hand. And, in the beginning, it does that. These wishes reside on her person, waiting to be used at the right opportunity. It is when these wishes start to become granted that Estrella, as well as the audience, learns the harsh reality of what making a wish can mean.
Wishes, a staple of fairytales within the past century or so, are meant to provide hope. A couple of Disney songs come to mind, bringing to light the joy and hope that making a wish can bring to a person in times of great struggle.
However, the lesson Estrella learns from making wishes is much different than what we have all come to expect. This is the real world and the real world has consequences much like fairytales of old. And, it is in watching Estrella learn about the consequences of making wishes that we start to dive into that grey. That not all symbols are hope carry good intentions. Perhaps they, in fact, can deliver more harm to our souls than good in the end. However, that is not all the wishes carry for Estrella. In fact, after each wish is granted, it propels her further down the path she must take in order to see the story to its end.
It is this multifaceted weight that the wish carries that reminds the audience what we have long forgotten about fairytales. That they are to teach us and warn us. They are to remind us that not everything is as simple as black and white.
It is easier to understand this in the context of the backdrop and story that López has constructed for us. Even more so when we see everything happening through the eyes of children. Children see these things as they are through a scope of brutal truth. And the children in TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID are just trying to survive and make sense of the chaos that has infiltrated their everyday lives. They themselves rely on the wishes and symbolism of the tiger to understand themselves, to understand what is happening around them.
And, like the audience, they learn the true meaning and weight these things carry as they move forward.
Shudder will release TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID on August 23rd, 2019 in Los Angeles, with an expansion to follow in September, prior to the film’s debut on Shudder.