Saturday, October 22, 2011
I was really excited about today's movie - Santa Sangre, directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1989. I actually bought the Blu-ray shortly after it was released because I just sort of figured that I would like it. I was totally right - this was an awesome movie. It's incredibly strange, and I imagine that most people would either get the horror movie aspect or laugh at the film. I guess you could do both, but I feel like you either accept the absurd world of the film, or it's just too bizarre to take seriously. For whatever reason, I completely accept and embrace all the weirdness, and I loved all the psychological horror that this film was full of. Whatever goes on is Jodorowsky's head is wonderful and macabre and strange, and I always feel almost privileged to get a glimpse of it.
The film is about Fenix, a boy who grows up in a circus (Circus Gringo, to be exact) with his aerial-performing mother Concha (heh) and knife-throwing, sparkle-wearing father Orgo. Concha is part of a cult that worships a young girl who had her arms cut off by rapists, their temple housing a pool of "holy blood". Orgo is having sexual escapades with that tattooed lady in the circus, who is part of his knife-throwing act (of which she gets an obvious erotic thrill out of). Concha catches them, and in her anger, she pours sulfuric acid on his genitals and in his rage, he cuts off her arms. Fenix watches in horror. Later, Fenix is older and in an institution which seems to only contain people with Down syndrome. He hears something call him out the window in his room there, and he sees that it is his mother. He escapes to help her - he acts as her arms, stepping close behind her to gesture while she speaks, feed her, scratch an itch. It's sort of unnerving, especially since it seems like Fenix can predict what his mother is going to do or say next. Soon, though, Fenix realizes that his mother can actually control his arms, and make him do things that he doesn't want to do...like murder.
So it sounds like I gave away a ton of the plot, but I really didn't - there are some more interesting twists and such that happen. I thought the plot was pretty cool - I liked the sort of overstated way that the director portrayed mother issues and that sort of thing. We all are really shaped by our pasts, just like Fenix, but the film is obviously an exaggeration of that issue. But it was cool to see that issue brought up, I guess, because I think everyone can kind of relate to it. I think we're all pretty aware that we are mostly just products of our environment. I think that by using an issue that we can all understand if not relate to, it grounds the film a little - the setting and characters and the other events are so strange and outlandish, but knowing why Fenix is doing what he's doing made it somehow easier to accept.
I like all the visual and psychological horror here, too. I'm not easily grossed out, but there were some pretty horrifying and icky images in the film. Jodorowsky certainly doesn't shy away from using wonderful gushing blood (of all colors, even). There was something about the color in this film that seemed to really make the fake blood pop, and seem even more gross and fantastic. Some scenes were really haunting. There is one scene where the elephant in the circus is dying and we see blood pouring from it's trunk. I hate seeing animals suffer, even if it's fake, and there was something really deeply unsettling about this scene for me. It wasn't something, I guess, it was the blood. Fenix gets really unsettled by it, but I totally understood why you would like, be permanently scarred from something like that.
And while all the visual horror is excellent, it just works so well with the psychological element. It's what elevates the movie, really, and makes it this great, as Ebert calls it, "adult horror movie". Not only do we see the mental and emotional impact of Fenix's awful childhood, but we see other fears and things at play here. The fear of not being able to break away from your parents, from always being controlled by them. The fear of not being able to control your own body anymore. Even, simply, the fear of not being able to escape the things from our past that impacted us and changed us. I found the movie so effective because I can relate to all of these fears, you know? I can't relate to the Circus Gringo, to his childhood, to his weird relationship with his mother, or really, to any of the surface-level things in the movie. But I can understand what's going on underneath all that. And that, I guess, is why I didn't laugh at things like the weird clowns that often show up at awkward times, the occasional bad acting, the strange costumes, stuff like that.
I love what Ebert says about this movie at the end of his essay. He brings up the fact that this movie is for adults because it doesn't just deal with the pornography of violence with no consequence. I love that. It's what makes this a masterful film instead of just a horror movie or a cult film. So many horror movies just exist to show gore, or have cheap jump-scares. The violence all happens in a bubble, just for thrills and excitement, which is fine, sometimes. What's really scary is the lasting impact that violence can have on people. Fenix is unsettling because he embodies this. Everything screwed up about him seems like it's clearly a result of the awful violent things he witnesses in his childhood. This is often, sadly, the case with real violence. Anyone who witnesses it or survives it is forever changed. And personally, I think that is really terrifying - that our minds could be so deeply changed and altered by something out of our control.
Have any thoughts about Santa Sangre? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Santa Sangre
Buy it on Amazon