Embrace of the Serpent

April 24, 2016 at 4:59 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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This deeply affecting Colombian film purports to be based on the journals of German scientist Theodor Koch-Grunberg from his exploration of the Amazon River in 1909. The film covers his story and that of another (probably entirely fictionalized) scientist decades later taking the same journey. Both men are taken down (or, perhaps, up, depending on your perspective) the river by a shaman. Along the way, they encounter various groups of people, each making their own commentary on the relationship between whites and natives, reminiscent of Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” Like that one, this story is rich with metaphor, albeit of a different sort. The title seems to suggest both the serpent of the Garden of Eden and the anaconda at the heart of a local creation myth; it could be both that which created everything natural and edenic and/or that which cast us out from it. At different points, the shaman refers to both himself and Koch-Grunberg as the snake, furthering that dual interpretation and leaving us to wonder which serpent is being embraced and who is doing the embracing: you or the serpent? This back and forth plays out through the film as it ponders heavy and disturbing subject matter, such as it is better to be assimilated or annihilated? The film is not light fare and it can get a bit mired down in parts. However, when the story lags, one can always be distracted by the beautiful visuals. Black and white is the perfect medium for a film about stark concepts like good and evil. Anyone who has seen a lot of black and white films knows that they can have very different feels. This one is very dark and murky with lots of low light and black backgrounds and black is never so black in film as it is in black and white. Beautiful views of the jungle, animals, the river, people and the sky were deeply textured and rich. The film is truly visually stunning from its beginning to its very strange end.

 

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