Embrace of the Serpent
Colonialism doesn’t have such a good reputation these days.
I’m guessing that when college kids learn about colonialism, they are taught that it was racist, greedy, violent, and that it destroyed great cultures forever.
That is true, true, true, and false.
In war, sometimes the good guys lose. But in a clash of cultures, the victor can’t crush a weaker people’s culture.
When the early Romans conquered the Greeks, they couldn’t help but recognize that their Greek subjects had a more sophisticated system of deities, philosophy, and representative government. The Romans didn’t try to snuff out the greatness of Greece; they took it back home to Italy.
When the barbarian Visigoths sacked the Imperial city of Rome 550 years later, they didn’t want to destroy Roman culture – they wanted to be part of it. When the Visigoths saw the glorious stone mansions with running water, they didn’t want to tear them down – they wanted to move in.
It is technically possible that the United States could be conquered someday by militant Islamic invaders. However, I believe that it is impossible that our Muslim overlords could maintain Sharia Law here. In a few years, they’d be drinking beer at ballgames and watching adult videos on iPads just like us. Because our culture is objectively superior.
I’m guessing that Columbian filmmaker Ciro Guerra does not agree with my cultural superiority theory.
“Embrace of the Serpent” is a spell-binding, trippy ode to a Native American culture that was annihilated by Westerners. It’s a unique, uncompromising art film. It makes “Dances With Wolves” look like a Saturday Morning cartoon for simple children.
“Embrace of the Serpent” follows an Odyssey-like journey up the Amazon river as a gravely ill German explorer searches for a rare medicinal plant. His guide is Karamakate – a lonely jungle native who wants to see if there are any other members of his tribe left alive.
It is 1907, and colonialism is beginning to alter the jungle landscape forever. We meet disfigured natives who have been enslaved by rubber companies. We meet zombie-like armies of Native orphans who have been brainwashed by fascistic Christian monks.
It’s easy to understand why Karamakate hates white people. And, boy, does he hate white people!
You’ve never seen a character as brutally racist as Karamakate. He justifiably blames Westerners for killing and enslaving his people, but his hatred goes much deeper than that.
Karamakate mocks the German’s clothes, his eating habits, his intelligence, his materialism. When the dying European is writing what may be his final letter to his wife back home, Karamakate laughs uncontrollably at his unmanly white-guy sentimentality.
“Embrace of the Serpent” is an engrossing, challenging, haunting film. And it has a lead character that you’ve never seen before.
I’m sorry to say it, but if the Amazon natives had ever created a piece of art as great as this film, their culture would not have died out. But they never did. And now they’re gone forever and in a way that Greece, Rome, and the United States will never be.