Violence in Mexican film and literature

 

By Shane Cassidy

Violence in text, like violence in our world, is multifaceted. It functions at different levels, is perpetuated by different motivations, and is experienced in a variety of ways[1]

Over the last 30 years Mexico has suffered various inflictions of violence upon its society. Economic and social violence, in the form of a reduction in the social contract between the state and its citizens, combined with the massive and rapid rise of the drug culture and resulting violence has left a lasting mark on Mexican consciousness. The portrayal of violence In Juan Pablo Villalobos’ novel, Fiesta en la Madriguera, and Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s film, Amores Perros, is complex and diverse and facilitates an insight into two very different aspects of Mexican society. Villalobos highlights how continued exposure to violence desensitizes people or society and the ease with which the abhorrent can be normalised. Inarritu’s commentary on present day Mexico also illustrates how such prolonged exposure leads to the audience reacting worse to the animals being hurt in his film rather than the people.

Fiesta en la Madriguera centers around a young boy, Tochtli, who lives in a mansion and the bizarre and violent world he inhabits in Mexico. He lives with his father, Yolcaut, who is a major drug baron and through Tochtlis naive, matter-of-fact narrative we gain an insight into the paranoid and violent world of the Mexican drug trade. By electing to have a child narrator, Villalobos presents the audience with a non moralizing view on the drugs trade in Mexico but it also allows for no ambiguity as to the severity of the world that they inhabit and impact it has had on Tochtli. The portrayal of violence through the young narrator allows for Villalobos to illustrate the crushing effect that not only violence but the exposure to violence can have on a young, impressionable mind. Although not obviously a novel on Mexican drug culture, it is clear that drug culture violence which is so pervasive in Mexican society has heavily informed the novel. In a non-moralizing approach, Villalobos succeeds in highlighting the corruption and numbing of Tochtlis feelings towards violence. In the novel we see Tochtli ponder nonchalantly about how many bullets it would take to kill a man;

Una de las cosas que he aprendido con Yolcaut es que a veces las personas no se convierten en cadáveres con un balazo. A veces necesitan tres balazos o hasta catorce. Todo depende de dónde les des los balazos[2]

As Elizabeth Baines argues, a child’s innocent, unbiased mind acts almost like a camera for the reader[3]. Although Tochtli doesn’t understand the seriousness of these topics, we are left in no doubt as to the severity of the actions of the adults in the novel. It makes the violence and things Tochtli says impact even more as he is so young.

Amores Perros is a violent triptych of stories reflecting love and loss in contemporary Mexico City. The first story revolves around Octavio and his attempts to get his Susana, his brother’s wife, to run away with him. The second story revolves around an upper class executive who has just left his wife for a younger, famous model. The final story centers on El Chivo and his attempts to reconcile with is daughter while also working as a hired gun. These three stories are all connected by a car crash and the characters lives are intertwined stories about the different strata of life in Mexico City. In each story the characters condition is represented in the parallel lives of their dogs who also become victims to its extreme violence.

The dogs serve as crucial narrative to the violence in the film and act as a metaphor for the brutality and bestiality of the city. The dogs are used throughout the film as an escape from economic, social and emotional deprivation and yet ironically they are so often the ones that suffer such savage violence. Octavio’s desperation for a new life has allowed him to reconcile the fact that he is constantly endangering his only source of income and potential escape in order to make enough money to run away with Susana. Valeria’s dog suffers a traumatic ordeal, trapped under the floorboards and reflects Valeria’s own sense of being trapped within the apartment, within her disfigured body and even trapped within her ‘perfect’ body before the accident. In the case of El Chivo, when he discovers that all his dogs have met with a bloody and vicious end, he renounces his life as a gun for hire. Throughout the film, El Chivo rescues stray dogs and gives them shelter while continuing to kill people. It is only upon witnessing the gory scene of his dead dogs that El Chivo realises that the actions of the dog mirror his own murderous behavior and he resolves to change.

Both texts emphasize the evident neglect and isolation of the working class and their desperate measures to survive as a result. Octavio has had to resort to the brutality of dog fighting merely to make money and as he dreams of a better future although he never elaborates on what that future will entail. Octavio’s brother, Ramiro, also affected by the economic situation, is a violent and abusive partner to Susana and who works in a Supermarket where his increasing frustration leads him to commit robberies and hold ups of chemists. His violent nature against his wife reflects his frustration with his life and the lack of any real social opportunities and his failure to provide a living, as the man, for his family. Ramiro’s pride must be severely punctured by the fact that his family are living with his mother and brother and hismachismo leads him to assert his superiority and dominance over his wife , who becomes a victim of domestic violence[4].

The stories of El Chivo and Maru and Octavio and Susana convey the utter polarization which has developed in Mexico in recent years due to excessive economic restrictions imposed by the IMF, NAFTA and all the other side effects of economic globalization overseen by massive multinational corporations and banks[5]. Although this economic hardship and the social impact is prevalent throughout all three of the stories and at every level of society, there is no political engagement from any of the characters. Instead, the struggle against imperialist oppression is limited solely to violence and the role of El Chivu and this is through his previous life as a guerrilla. Violence is seen as the only tool to act against this hardship and even El Chivo has surrendered in his struggle, disillusioned, and has instead become a gun for hire.

This disillusionment is prevalent in both the novel and the film, where the characters are motivated by money to commit acts of savage violence. Octavio is willing to inflict suffering and pain on his dog for economic gain. El Chivo is hired by a man to kill his business partner due to financial greed and El Chivo initially agrees to it, only for the car crash he witnesses to act as a catalyst for change in him. In the novel, Yolcaut and his associates are engaged in the drugs underworld for money and the vast the amounts which can be earned.

In Amores Perros, the depiction of violence is gruesome, bloody and visceral. The visual viciousness of the dog fighting which is captured is staggeringly effective. It is an uncompromising and realistic portrayal of the often violent, daily lives of the characters. In Fiesta en la Madriguera, violence is not limited solely to physical violence, as we see from Tochtlis use of highly violent and aggressive language which pervades his daily mindset. Tochtli’s interests include samurais, the guillotine and safaris in Africa. It is a history of violence and we can see how the violent world in which Tochtli resides has influenced him. In Chapter 3 alone, Tochtli repeats words like “cadaver”, “muerte”, “cortar”, “maricas”. However, the lack of words can also equally reflect the sense of the danger in Tochtlis society and how saying too much or the wrong thing will have dangerous and fatal consequences. So although we are not presented directly with the violence we can still sense it and the atmosphere created is one of great danger and constant impending violence. Muteness is a common theme throughout the novel and it also represents a form of escape and avoidance. In Chapter 3, Tochtli himself elects to remain in mute which doubtlessly reflects the trauma that he has endured. It can also be argued that when Tochtli speaks he unknowingly utters such heavy, wounding words that in his muteness or silence, an escape from this spoken violence is possible.

The sense of a circle of violence dominates the novel. The visit of an American drugs partner is implicit rather than explicit violence. Though nothing of a violent nature occurs an atmosphere is created of a constant foreboding violence in the air. Even Alotl, who provides him with a more maternal perspective and from when he meets her he no longer curses, presents him with a violent samurai film to watch. After the film, Yolcaut shows him the gun room and declares that “Tú un día vas a tener que hacer lo mismo por mí”[6]. That he is exposed to such violence is harrowing and sobering and also there is a tragic element in that we are very aware throughout the novel of this unbreakable circle of violence and that this amiable character in all likelihoods will grow to emulate his father. That Tochtli is deprived of his mother is telling in that throughout the novel he complains of experiencing stomach pains. That the world he encapsulates may very likely have been the reason for this deprivation is telling through this pain. Physical pain suffered by Tochtli is one of the repercussions which is inadvertently due to the violent lifestyle chosen by Yolcaut. It is this corruption of innocence which seems so tragic and so influential. This also serves as an allegory for Mexican society and how so many are exposed to such violence on a daily and often hourly basis, given recent statistics on drug killings in Mexico, and the impact it has on their consciousness[7].

The representation of violence trough the text and the film aid in the understanding of the deep psychological impact it has had on wider Mexican society. By using their respective stories as a microcosm for a much larger sociological problem, the audience is able to grasp the harsh realities of violence in the characters lives. Villalobos employs the use of a child narrator while Inarritu used dogs as an allegorical approach to dealing with this troubling subject. Both are innocent victims who are corrupted and placed in awful situations by their owners. The final result being a sense of loss, devastation and the realisation of how unnecessary the violence being inflicted upon the characters is while at the same time it exposes the socio-economic and cultural factors which have contributed to this harsh vision of modern day, violent Mexican City life.

References

Advertisements