Four years after his death and a half-century after his One Hundred Years of Solitude introduced much of the world to magical realism, Gabriel García Márquez might be pleased to know that the literary genre he helped popularize is now flourishing on screen.
On what would have been his 91st birthday, Google honored the prolific Colombian author with a Google Doodle depicting the magical city of Macondo, the setting of his most famous novel. In One Hundred Years of Solitude, Marquez imagined an isolated “city of mirrors” somewhere in the Amazon, where otherworldly phenomena—like fish made of gold—were commonplace.
Magical realism does just what it sounds like: It adds an element of magic or fantasy to an otherwise realistic world. Considered a masterpiece and the seminal work of magical realism by modern critics, One Hundred Years of Solitude catapulted Marquez to the top of global literary scene. In 1982, he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature for his work “in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination.”
Marquez has a rich legacy in literary circles, and lately echoes of his work have made their way into the Hollywood mainstream. That’s fitting, as Marquez himself dabbled with the visual medium as both a film critic and a screenwriter.
Two of the last four best picture Oscar winners owe a debt to Marquez. On Sunday at the 90th annual Academy Awards, The Shape of Water won the top prize. Its director, Guillermo del Toro, has said that Marquez is his favorite magical realism writer. The Mexican director is known for envisioning fantastical worlds in his films, and that’s evident in The Shape of Water, a film in which a mysterious amphibious creature exists in what is otherwise a very ordinary Baltimore, Maryland, in the early 1960s.
The film’s beautifully ambiguous ending kicks the magic up a few notches. It’s something that wouldn’t feel out of place in a Marquez novel. Birdman, the 2014 best picture winner by another Mexican director, Alejandro Iñárritu, was also interspersed with elements of magical realism. Its ending, like The Shape of Water‘s, leaves much open to interpretation and imagination.
But Marquez’s influence isn’t found only in the work of Latin American filmmakers. Its reach is far and wide, from HBO’s The Leftovers to, arguably, Netflix’s Stranger Things. One season of FX’s Fargo, for instance, included the unexplained existence of UFOs. Atlanta, another show on FX, portrays a surreal, sometimes hallucinatory version of its titular city, in which people can be run over by an invisible car.