In the Pixar movie Coco, it is stated that you cannot pass to the land of living if your photo is not present at the altar.

I know that Day of the dead tradition is based on real Mexican tradition, where people put photos of their ancestors at the altar as well. But Mexicans probably doesn't believe that there is some algorithm behind that, which would enable dead people to enter the land of the living (according to Wikipedia, sometimes they put things that belonged to the deceased as well).

Of course, one would think that it could substituted by paintings. But what if it is not precise enough. (there is this funny matchmaking machine in the movie) Or the precision is not important?

So, my question is, In-universe, how did dead people cross to the land of the living before photography was invented? Were dead people able to enter the land of living at all?

Maybe the answer could be also connected with the original Mexican tradition, but I don't know it very much, so I am not sure.

  • 3
    I think that memory of the dead is the most important factor, it can be achieved by from either photography or from a painting. Photographs are important because it helps living to avoid forgetting the dead.
    – Vishwa
    Apr 9, 2018 at 11:47
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    @BCdotWEB That is definitely not true. You maybe didn't understand the question, I should edit it to be more clear. I don't know how about you, but I personally don't believe that in reality, dead people are scanned and if they photo is at some altar them they can walk around us. I think Mexicans don't believe in this too.
    – TGar
    Apr 9, 2018 at 11:59
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    @Vishwa I would say that this is teo different things. Memory to the dead one makes him not to die completely (vanish from the land of the dead), while the photo makes him able to enter the land of rhe living.
    – TGar
    Apr 9, 2018 at 12:00
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    But in universe the question cannot be answered.
    – BCdotWEB
    Apr 9, 2018 at 14:04
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    @BCdotWEB Are you sure? What if there is some interview with screenwriters or directors, where this is mentioned? I don't know the answer and you don't know it probably – yes, it is possible, that as Paulie_D said, "we don't know" (or "we can't know") is the answer, but if we really cannot know, that even that is a valid answer (unsatisfying, but valid). Either way, the fact that we don't know is not itself a reason to close.
    – TGar
    Apr 9, 2018 at 15:19

1 Answer 1


The photo requirement is only shown as being enforced by the security guards in the land of the dead, there's no indication that you (meta)physically can't cross over without a photo, only that the guards won't let you. Prior to the 20th century, passports and photo ID were not generally required to cross borders. So it seems very likely that before photography, the dead could visit without an ID check, and that the custom of requiring ID was brought over from the land of the living to the land of the dead for some reason in the 20th century.

  • Wow, cool, good thinking. I will mark as accepted since we don't have better answer yet.
    – TGar
    Jul 2, 2018 at 12:42
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    Actually, when Hector attempts to cross the bridge without his photo up, he is unable to cross the bridge of petals and reach the land of the living. He sinks into the bridge, and the guards have to pluck him out. I think this is a pretty clear indication that the photo is required to actually cross over.
    – AAlig
    Jul 2, 2018 at 13:07
  • @AAlig oops, you're right
    – TGar
    Jul 2, 2018 at 20:52
  • 1
    It could also be that you merely need permission to cross the bridge Jul 3, 2018 at 14:11

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