The Devil's Backbone (2001) Script

What is a ghost?

A tragedy doomed to repeat itself time and again?

An instant of pain, perhaps.

Something dead which still seems to be alive.

An emotion, suspended in time.

Like a blurred photograph.

Like an insect trapped in amber.


We'll be there soon.

What the -

It fell quite a while ago, but it never went off.

Bomb squad came, defused it... and just left it there. Stuck. No one can move it.

Follow me, please.

Carlos... wait right here. We won't be long.

Who are those guys outside?

The caretaker and two men who help him.

They're from the town nearby. There's always work to be done.

They're building a chicken coop now.

What's going on out there?

They're here. Ayala and Dominguez, again?

Yes. And Ayala's wounded.

They're always in trouble.

They've brought another boy.

As if we didn't have enough already.

Let's go.

You just arrived?

Got any candy? Maybe a bit of bread?

I'm Gálvez, he's Owl. He doesn't speak but he stares a lot.

I'm Carlos.

Got any fruit, even if it's soft?

No, but I've got some comics and toys.

Want to see them? Yeah.

I can't do it.

I can't take another boy.

I can barely feed the ones we have. I'm sorry.

He's the son of a comrade fallen at the front.

The boy doesn't know. He doesn't know.

Your husband was a brave man, a true Leftist.

Oh, no. I'm the brave one.

Ricardo was a man of books and ideals.

But he decided to die and leave me to defend them.

The Nationalists will arrive any day and what will they find?

Reds looking after Reds' children.

Not to mention this!

I can't keep it anymore. If you want to leave the boy... take the rest of the gold.

There are 10 ingots left.

At least you can buy guns.

I can't even buy bread with it.

Take it away. We can't.

We're crossing enemy lines. Your decision:

The boy goes hungry here or gets killed out there.

Class time! Come on!

Look, Owl, a comic book!

I'll swap you.

Look at this marble. It's my favorite. It came from China.

Or look at this one.

Owl made it himself.

Hard snot and mud. Six months of snot.

Hey, you! That's mine!

Are you here to stay? No.

Then why are you here?

I came with Mr. Ayala, my tutor.

What's the fuck's a tutor? He looks after me while my father's away.

Shit, that's fancy!

No one here has a tutor.

You want it back? Take it.

Take it away. C'mon.

Carlos, look!

Mr. Ayala.

Your tutor's leaving you, faggot!

Stay with him for a while.

He seems quite meek.

So, I'm sure you'll get along.

We'll have to fix this.

The Count of Monte Cristo.

Has Edmond Dantés broken out of prison yet?

Has he met Abbot Faria? They're digging a tunnel.

Do they manage to escape? Mmh. I don't know.

Why don't you read on, and then tell me?

There are only three teachers left. The lady with thick glasses is Alma.

She teaches math and reading.

And the distinguished lady you saw, remember?

Her name is Carmen.

Is she your girlfriend? No. She's the headmistress.

Why did they leave me behind?

Why can't I be with my father?

Carlitos... you're staying with us for a while...

Just for a while.

So be patient.

Your soap bar has to last you all year long.

Don't lose it... or you'll get punished: two weeks of extra tasks.

You can play in the yard, but never inside the building.

This is your bed.

Number 12.

Why are there so many empty beds?

Some boys run away, but I wouldn't advise it.

It's a day's walk to town.

The nights are cold and the days -

For your locker.

Do you understand?

There are no bars here. This isn't a prison.

See where they put the new kid?

In Santi's bed. Shut up!

The Pig and I think that even if you complain a lot... you're all cozy here.

Far away from the war, well hidden.

Well looked after.

What could be better? Granada.

Going to Granada?

Yes. We're getting married.

We'll buy a small farm.



Does Conchita have family there? Do you know anyone?

I don't need anyone.

I've managed fine so far, all on my own.


Without parents.

Those Reds we saw, they were here for the gold.

That's right, the school's gold.

That's why they dine so well here... All that gold!!

You don't believe me now, but l'll show you.

I'll try these two tonight and let you know what happens.

That's great, kid.

Got a smoke?

No. All right, so long.

I don't like those two.

They make me sick.

This place makes me uneasy.

When I was a kid...

I'd stand here... in the middle of the yard... and I'd look up at the sky.

I dreamed of getting out of here.

I prayed to become rich... so I could buy this dump and I could tear it all down.

Forget it now.

No. I don't want anyone to know I spent 15 years here.

Well, I'm glad you came back.

Let's go to my room. It's getting chilly.

San... ti...

Who are you?

What are you doing?

Me? Nothing. What the hell's going on?

The fucking new kid dumped the water.

Come here.

You'll have to fetch some more from the kitchen.

Isn't that off limits?

No one's ever been caught.

What about the “one who sighs”?

So. What's it to be? Are you going or not?

Who's the “one who sighs”?

You're a chickenshit. No, I'm not.

You're a shit, a queer.

All right, l'll go.

But you're coming with me.

We'll each fill a jug.

But if you're scared -

They all say she's switched off.

But I don't believe it.

Put your ear against her, you can hear her ticking.

That's her heart.

She's still alive.

And she knows we're here.


That one.


See you outside.

“No one's ever been caught.” Bastard.



Who are you?

Do you live down here?

Many of you will die.


What are you up to?

“Out, out, yearnings of mine. Let not respect bind you.

It flatters pity -

It flatters pity not to be able to hide.

Let your lips bear witness... to the blaze in your heart.

No one will believe the fire if the smoke sends no signals.

He who cares for his well-being keeps not his feelings silent.

My grief is greater than I.

And that being so... it will be easier... it will be easier... for it to defeat me... than for me to command it.

Consideration does not suffice to prevent the cry.

He is not a brave prisoner who dares not break down his jail.”

A grain of strength.

Carlos, are you going to tell me who was with you last night?

He's not going to tell.

He'll squeal in the end. Wait and see.

Do you understand me?

Then, for the last time... who was with you last night?

I was alone.

That kid won't crack.

But, if we want to know who was with him, tell me:

What's for breakfast? Milk and bread.


Very well. You may begin.

They think Carlos has confessed, but they don't care.

They're so hungry. Look, they're ravenous.

But those who look up from their plate are his accomplices.

Marcos, Gálvez, Jaime and Owl.

Come here.

I knew you wouldn't squeal.

Dr. Casares tricked me.

That's what I thought.

It isn't because of you that we are being punished.

Dr. Casares is real smart. He sure is!


Come on, Owl.

Shit, for a dead guy, he sure weighs a shitload!

Well, well!

Christ in the yard and John the Baptist in here.

Are things that bad?

If the new Spain is Catholic and apostolic -

Try it now.

I told you.

Dance with me. No.

Come on, dance with me. No.

I can't dance.

You heard Ayala.

Catalonia is about to fall.

Then Madrid will follow, and then -

The kids talk of a ghost. Have you heard them?


Sometimes I think that we are the ghosts.

Gálvez... last night, you didn't shoot at me.

That's right.

Wow, that's amazing! Lt's for you.

Why are they laughing?


Go back to Argentina, while you still can.

The war isn't over yet, Carmen.

England or France might still intervene.

That's wishful thinking.

You're just like Ricardo. No.

No, I'm not like him.

Twenty years ago, I found my place in the world.

And I stayed.

That's all.

Look at it jump!

Where's the new kid?

Are you the “one who sighs”?

Do you live down there?


What are you up to? Go on, call Dr. Casares.


Throw him down! Go on!

He can't swim!

Over there! Over there, to your left!

There he is!

Grab him! Careful!

What's going on?

What have I told you?

And you, eh?

What the fuck are you doing down here?

Whose is this?

It's mine.

If anything happens to you, I get the blame.

Get out!


A single word about this and l'll rip you in half.

Got that?

There you go.

Our Carlos has been here five minutes and he's gotten into trouble already.

Have you read any more of Monte Cristo?

Do you believe in ghosts?

Why? There aren't any in that novel.

I think I saw one... here.

Carlos, as you can see, I'm a man of science.

But Spain is full of superstition. Come here.

Europe is sick with fear now, and fear sickens the soul.

And that, in turn, makes us see things.

In town... they call this...

“the devil's backbone.” They say a lot of things.

That this happens to children who “shouldn't have been born”.

“Nobody's children.” But that's a lie.

Poverty and disease. That's all it is.

The liquid they are pickled in is called “limbo water.” In the old days, it was made with various spices... cloves, rum.

So this is very, very old rum.

I sell it in town, and the money keeps the school going.

Do they drink it?

They say it helps to cure blindness, kidney ailments... and also, apparently... impotence.

Rubbish, but you know, after 60, men will pay anything just to -

You know.

So if you're going to believe in ghosts and all that rubbish, you should have a sip of this to heal your wound.

No. I'm not really sure I saw a ghost. Can I go now?

Yes, of course.

And watch it!

Calm down.

I'm not going to punch you.

Be quiet.

Carlos... get out your comics so we can read them.

That ring's pretty. Lt's from a cigar.

I found it four summers ago. It's very pretty.

Hey, Carlos, let's swap.


A naked woman. It's really well drawn, just like a photo.

She's a cutie! Who drew this?

Her pussy's sideways.

It looks like a mouth. What would you know, you fucking midget.

Look, a slice of fig cake.

It's a bit mushed but it's still okay.

No, give me back my comic. I want it back.


I'll give it to you later. It's in my locker.

You're a real artist.

When I grow up, I want to draw comics.

Like mine? No, much better.

With more fights and treasures.

And big ships with lots of cannons.

These bugs are icky. What do they eat?

Did you hear that?

A sigh.

I didn't hear it.

I heard it too.

Don't kiss me.

Sorry, I forgot.

This is the last time.

Sure. “The last time.” Same old story.

Don't make any noise.

Scared the old man will hear?

I've never been scared.

Just ashamed.


You're ashamed of me. Not him.

Oh, he's a gentleman.

Pity that's not enough.

You need a hard cock as well.

And your husband and the doctor -

Tough luck.

The old man stares at you. He loves you.

He loved you even back when your husband was still alive.

I was 17.

They both took care of the poetry, I took care of the flesh.

This leg -

I don't like to think about this leg.

It hurts.

Some days I can't bear it.

But I need it to stay on my feet.

I saw those lights again today in the sky.

That's the war. It'll never end.

The war's shit.

Well, I like it.

You like it, dickhead?

Yeah, because you see the planes going like this...

My mother says that the earth's so dry here and the air's so hot that the dead get stuck halfway to heaven.

That's rubbish! Just like the “one who sighs.” Here you go again, you fucking moron!

Even if it annoys him, there is a ghost.

The day the bomb fell, a boy disappeared. Santi.

Since then, no one has dared take Jaime on.

Yeah. Santi slept in your bed, number 12.

Shit, I'm telling the story here.

The teachers think that when the bomb fell...

Santi got scared and ran away.

But maybe some shepherds found him and he's alive.

Or cutthroats got him and drained his blood.


They sell the blood to rich people to cure their tuberculosis.

And where's the ghost?

Well, It came with the bomb.

So, maybe if you ask her -

Take that one.

Out of the way.

Put those in, but be careful!

Don't break them.


Look, I found this.

I thought you might like it.

Open the gate, Jaime.

It's beautiful.

It looks like real gold, but it isn't.

Looks real to me.

It's lovely.

Thank you.

What's that?

Kids' stuff.

Can anyone tell me what these elegant gentlemen are hunting?

Gálvez? A pig.

Well, a boar.

Why not a giraffe?

Carlos? A mammoth.

Very good. And what's a mammoth? An ancestor of the elephant.

Very good.

Bet your tutor taught you that.

In those days, men had to act in groups.

No one could give up.

Imagine the death of a mammoth.

It must have been terrible.

Mammoth steak. Damn!

When you get to draw your comics, I could help you write the stories.

I don't need anyone.

My stories and my drawings are only mine, got that?

Tomorrow, we'll continue with the second part of prehistory.

Leave your things in the dormitory.

Then it's recess.


Satisfaction guaranteed. I hope so.

Here you go.

There isn't much.

Hey, you! Bastards!

What's going on?

International Brigade.

Caught two Spaniards, six Canadians, one Chinaman.

What the fuck's a Chinaman doing in a Spanish war?

You, look down! At your damn feet! Against the wall!

A friend of yours, Doc?

Bomb... if you're still alive...

Show me where Santi is.


Talk to me.

I don't want anyone to die.

Many of you will die.


A grain of strength.

You're up late. Please, give me a minute.

I need to talk to you, but I don't want the boys to hear.

Things are very bad out there.

Is something wrong? Yes.

We have to get away. Today, if possible.

Ayala was taken prisoner - Ayala?

Yes! What if they questioned him? We have to go.

Go where?

To Marseille, with the Ricards.

We can't stay here another minute. I will not leave the boys!

Very well, we'll take them, as many as we can.

We'll use the gold. The gold belongs to the cause.

Fuck the cause, Carmen, fuck the cause!

I always thought there'd be an “afterwards” for us.

There is no afterwards!

Carmen, if anything happened to you -


The boys are waiting for your permission to have breakfast.

I'll need some papers.

But we'll go.

Boys, you may start.

Come along. Get started, please. Get started. Quick.

My mother wrote to me.

She's feeling better.

She's coming for me soon.

Last night I saw the “one who sighs.” Last night?

You're making it up.

It's Santi. I'm sure.

So. You're leaving?

Where are you going?

What about me?

Fuck me, right?

That's good.

I want you to finish breakfast, but while you're doing so, listen very carefully because I have to tell you something -

You may go, but the gold stays here.

The gold?

Is that all you care about? That's it.

What are you doing?

I hid you here so you wouldn't enlist and die out there. With no one to mourn you.

Give me the key.

But you know what?

Of all the orphans, you were always the saddest.

The lost one.

A prince without a kingdom. Shut up!

The only one who was really alone. I said shut up!

Get out of here, or I'll shoot you!

Look who's come to save you. The old sage.

Wonder if this weapon works.

You know that while you whisper sweet things to this old hag...

I'm the one who has to screw her?

And now... get out.

What did you see?

You know already.

I don't know anything. Tell me.


He's the “one who sighs.” He's dead, isn't he?

Come on, boys.

Conchita... would you bring me a few cans of gas for the journey?

No. Please, no!

You'll all travel in the back of the truck.

It'll be a long journey.

The older boys will have to look after the little ones.

If any of you are scared, you can sit with me.

What are you doing?

Are you all right, ma'am?

It's my bad leg.

It weighs more than ever.

What? Did you think someone would just give us a farm?

What are you doing with that?

You're crazy.

They're all inside.

You going to shoot me?


What was that? The children!

Get them out! It's going to blow up!

Get out! Outside!


Alma, leave it, come on!

Get out! All of you!

I feel very cold. Lt's all right. Don't move.

Don't move, don't look.

Is it bad?

Fetch my bag from the lab. Quickly!

They won't have heard the explosion in town.

And it was just one of many. We can't expect any help.

If I walk all night, l'll get to town by noon tomorrow.


I've got something to tell you.

If I don't tell you now - No, please, don't.

I couldn't -

Can't hear you. My ear is busted. So, please -

Just this once... let me do all the talking.

I've learned a new poem. Oh, yes, please.

A poem.

“Be near me when my light is low...

When the blood creeps... and the nerves prick and tingle... and the heart is sick... and the wheels of Being slow.

Be near me... when the sensuous frame is rack'd with pangs... that conquer trust...

And time... a maniac scattering dust...

And Life... A Fury slinging flame...

Be near me... when I fade away...

To point the term of human strife

The twilight...

of eternal day...

And the low, dark verge of life.”


A grain of strength.

Carlos, look.

Dr. Casares.

That son of a bitch.

I should have killed him when I had the chance.

But he'll be back.

And l'll be right here... waiting for him.

Carlitos, be good... bring me my records, my music.

I need them. All right?

Are you hungry?

“Eat beans, good for the heart.

The more you eat, the more you fart.”

My stomach's all upset.

But the younger ones might be hungry.

Could you kill someone?

I could.

What you said about Santi is true.

He's dead.

But I didn't kill him.

I thought - I was with him.

I saw everything.

It started in the pit.

I dared him to come down with me, at night, to gather slugs.

Run, Jaime. Jacinto's here.

What did you see? Nothing.

Did you see the safe? No.

Did you see the safe?

Why the fuck are you in here?

Who was with you?

Get up.

Get up.

I was a coward.

I was always afraid of Jacinto.

Very afraid.

But not anymore.

The next time I see him...

I know I'm going to kill him.

Look who's here.

Watch how he handles her.

Just say you're sorry and get in the car.

I'm not scared of you.

Stop making me look like a fool.

Say you're sorry. They're looking at me.

I'm not afraid of you.

Just say you're sorry.

You're an animal.

Doctor, I did what you told me.

I did what you told me.

But Owl's wound won't stop bleeding.


Someone's coming.

Someone's coming, Doctor!

Help me get on my feet.

Jaime, start the record!

Turn the horn towards the window!

Didn't you say he was dead?


No one cares about this place. We can wait.

They're leaving!

All my life I've always stopped short.

Always left things unfinished.

I'm not going to leave you alone, I promise you.

I will never leave this place.

We'll wait for you upstairs.

I'm not going to run away.

I want to talk to you.


They must have driven on.

Tell me. What do you want?


Bring him to me.

I understand.

I'm going to help you.

Jaime! I saw Santi! He told me what he wants!

I had to break the old man's fingers.

Even in death, he's stubborn.

Hurry up! Come on!

There's something here!

Marcelo! Out of the way!

Fucking great. It wasn't a complete waste of time.

This is yours, isn't it?

We have to get out of here.

One of us has to climb through the window.

And then open the door.

And what then?

What's wrong?

You scared?

Yes, I am, asshole. You're not wounded. Owl is.

You're not bleeding. Fuck, you're not even hurt.

Santi is dead.

Jacinto killed him.

And if we stay like this, he'll kill us all.

Do you want to sit and wait?

You think he'll just let us go?

That it'll all work out if we behave?

They have the rifle.

They're bigger than us, much stronger.

Yes. But there are more of us.


Wait. Check if they're still working.

Go on. All right.

Gálvez, did you hurt yourself?

Just a bit.

Fuck! Look again!

There's nothing here but souvenirs, photographs! Just crap!

One of us has to go out and get Gálvez.

- Who'll do it? I'll go.

No, not you. I'll go. I'm skinnier.

Who opened it?

Dr. Casares opened the door.

He said I'd be all right, and that we should all be brave.

No fucking gold here! You hear me?

You and your pipe dreams! Fuck me!

Gold, gold. My ass!

My father, see?

He was from Calanda.

He was an accountant. Quite dapper. Look.

My mother, from Toledo.

And that. That's me.

It's blurred 'cause I moved.

But that's me. I'm sure.

We're leaving tomorrow.

Pig, do you think your brother in Portugal could put us up?

We don't have much time.

“How lonely, the prince without a kingdom, the man without warmth.

"Jacinto, 1925, in Malaga."

I saw that gold.

It's here.

We just have to look for it.

We'll find it, and tomorrow we'll burn this place down.

And the boys? They've got no parents.

They've got no one. Who'll miss them?

We're at war.

Just a drop in the ocean.

Look, Jacinto.

Burn the place, kill the kids, I don't give a shit.

But we're getting out of here tomorrow.

We need stuff from the car. Hurry up.

I'll need a hand.

Come on, Pig.

You're crazy, asshole!

Fuck you!

No, fuck you! It's all for me.

Son of a bitch!

What a joke!

Gálvez, you go over there.

The rifle, Jaime, the rifle!


What is a ghost?

A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again?

A moment of pain, perhaps.

Something dead which still seems to be alive.

An emotion suspended in time.

Like a blurred photograph.

Like an insect trapped in amber.

A ghost.

That's what I am.