Beetles, cockroaches, flies, and spiders are amongst the most reviled insects on our planet. But while many people have a natural aversion to them, some writers and scientists study these bugs to unlock important secrets about our humanity. That is why filmmakers like Guillermo del Toro have elevated them from lowly creatures to powerful supernatural characters who not only command our respect, but could also personify the highest of human values.
"Who says insects aren't God's favorite creatures?" reflects one of del Toro's antagonists in his 1993 horror vampire film Cronos. "Christ walked on water, just like a mosquito. The matter of resurrection is related to ants, to spiders. They can remain inside a rock for hundreds of years until someone comes along and frees them."
The film reminds viewers that humans can be just as ugly as insects, predatory, natural adversaries, who compete for the same resources and territories. But while many people might find this comparison abominable, del Toro sees an inner beauty in the extreme circumstances that transform humans into monsters. No matter how terrifying we may become, our grotesqueness reveals the circumstances and characteristics that make us most vulnerable—the heavy choices that define our personality, the irreversible consequences that make or break our destiny.
For del Toro, monsters compel us to confront "the dark terrifying truths" that lurk inside of us. They force us to question our science and faith. And in a way, our fascination with supernatural creatures can make us feel more empathetic, compassionate, because each monster is like a psychiatric profile of humanity.
"Monsters like Godzilla," del Toro told me recently at the New York Comic Con, "can awaken a sense of duty and honor, help us address death, and admire the way that Japanese people can see in such an enormous creature a figure of love and sympathy."