Saturday, June 27, 2009
"Sin Nombre" (Without a Name)
OK, so if you know me very well, you're used to my habit of seeing a good, thought-provoking movie, then immediately trying to recommend it to everyone. I did it with Slumdog Millionaire, I did it with The World's Fastest Indian, and now I'm doing it with the most politically and socially relevant piece of fiction on film I've seen in ages, Sin Nombre. Yes, it's in Spanish, with English subtitles, but don't let that scare you off. This is one important and powerful movie.
Let's get the basic information out of the way first. The director is Cary Fukunaga, and the two young stars are Edgar Flores as Willy/Casper and Paulina Gaitan as Sayra. Willy is called Casper by his fellow gang members, but it's clear from the first that his heart is not with the gang, but with his hot girlfriend. When he sneaks away from an assignment to be with her, the trouble starts. She wants to know more about his gang activities, and her unexpected arrival at a meeting leads to tragedy. Willy is unable to defend her, but when he is expected to watch the gang leader rape another girl, Sayra, who is an innocent Honduran immigrant traveling with her uncle and father, Willy finds the courage to do what he couldn't do before. His precipitate action leads to the gang issuing a "green light," meaning that any gang member, anywhere, is expected to kill him.
Willy doesn't want Sayra's thanks or attention, but she insists on sticking to him, despite his warnings about his past--and his likely future--and despite her father's orders that Willy is nothing but trouble. Being a headstrong girl, Sayra unwisely deserts her father and uncle for Willy, which leads to a tragic ending on the banks of the Rio Grande, as the couple tries to cross into the United States.
So there is the brief plot summary. But there's more to this movie. Watching Sayra's family, along with hundreds of others, camp in the railyard in southern Mexico until they can hop a train rolling slowly for the promised land of America, then riding with them for two or three weeks along atop boxcars through rain, hostility, and the ever-present danger of being robbed--or worse--by a gang like Willy's made me realize that the simple wall proposed and started by the Bush administration is likely to do very little to stop illegal immigration. These people are desperate enough to leave their loved ones, risk everything they have to travel to a country where they don't even speak the native language, and persist in trying again and again. What use will a wall be? Somewhere, somehow, someone will find a way through, over or under that wall. Or the immigrants will fall prey to unscrupulous coyotes, who promise to help them cross safely, only to frequently abandon them in the deadly southwestern US deserts.
These are human beings, folks! Instead of spending untold millions of dollars trying to keep them out, why isn't our government helping their countries develop economies healthy enough to provide for their needs at home? The US sends about $3,000,000,000 to Israel each year, and what do we have to show for it? Trouble with the entire Arab world. Why don't we keep some of that money in our own backyard, helping out our nearest neighbors? I'll tell you why. It's because Spanish-speaking immigrants have nowhere near the political clout and money of those who support Israel. This is not an anti-Semitic rant, just a recognition that an incredible amount of foreign aid that might help closer to home flows across the Atlantic and through the Mediterranean every year, and how are we any safer as a nation for that?
Another issue is the gangs themselves, like the one into which Willy has been beaten (13 seconds of punching and kicking by the entire gang are part of the initiation rites). Too many young people, like Willy's protege "Smiley", fall prey to these gangs because of too little guidance at home. Smiley's grandmother protests mightily against his association with Willy, but to no avail. Willy can flash money and goodies enough to dazzle young Smiley, thanks to his gang association. In one of the more chilling scenes in a movie full of them, Smiley brandishes his new pistol to even younger friends, bragging that he has enough bullets to kill every one of them.
And where do these gangs get most of their money to buy the guns with which they arm themselves? From drugs, the price for which is driven up by the self-indulgence and selfishness of US citizens who create the demand for them, and the ridiculous drug war waged by the US government, which simply drives the profits underground. Our government, in its eagerness to legislate morality as defined by certain powerful lobbies, refuses to recognize the failure of the drug war and its terrible consequences for the people of Mexico, Central and South America. So we build walls, both physical and virtual, and we try to hunker down in our homes, hoping that the violence remains south of the border. But it's too late--the violence is here. Recently, in Salina, two people were gunned down, alledgedly because one of them was planning to go to the police to report the drug dealing activities of her eventual killer.
So go see Sin Nombre in the theater, or rent it. If I could have my way, every politician at both the state and national levels would be required to see it, then talk with director Fukunaga, who spent much time riding the same trains as the immigrants, and even interviewing real gang members, so that he could present the most accurate portrayal possible through a fictional medium. Without a doubt, Sin Nombre is one of the most memorable films you'll ever experience.