Ernestina E., you wanted to see the artwork hanging on Comandante Lentes´ wall, depicting the pregnant Indian mother who, unable to escape Spanish soldiers, hung herself. See above -- the picture is among engravings by Theodorus de Bry for Bartolomé de Las Casas´ classic, Short Account of The Destruction of The Indies, 1552.
Located at 90 minutes into "Pillars of The Sea," the de Bry engraving spins the movie toward its resolution. The artwork causes Acamca, grandson of the guardian of the world´s greatest lost treasure trove, to have a change of heart and help Dion Totec, hero of "Pillars." To achieve its thematic purpose of a sharp change of direction, the engraving had to be unbelievable but believable -- overwhelming -- and it is.
There you have it -- look again -- the worst thing a human being can do to another. When it comes to the Latin America, historical fact* beats non-historical fantasy every time -- especially when that fantasy consists of "hot idea" effusions of Hollywood studios.
More on the de Bry engraving and its meaning shortly.
* * *
Manolo G., you asked about the opening image of "Pillars" -- the view (see above) of Tenochtitlan, 1519, from the volcano Popocatepetl.
In matters of dramaturgy, I am strictly old school. Its standards -- which no longer exist, much less prevail -- dictate that the start of a work of fiction must give the essence of the story, albeit in a coded form. That way, at the end of the story, when the latent becomes manifest, the audience has a feeling of revelation. "Ah haa!" -- the spectator or reader becomes aware of something he already knew. He experiences the true objective of drama: catharsis.
In the Tenochtitlan image, the city is more than a city: it is a Jungian mandala, a pictorial expression of and by the inner self. Found in all cultures, the mandala is an unconscious archetype. Arabian labyrinths are mandalas; so are Navajo sand paintings.
Note that the boundaries of Tenochtitlan do not make a complete circle. The mandala, or self, is not fully formed. Its completion is the psychological drama of "Pillars of The Sea." The coding occurs in the fact that the conscious mind sees only a spectacular, beautiful panorama; it does not perceive the deeper message. However, the unconscious sees it instantly and is stirred up; the image is exciting in the truest sense of the word (the fact you asked me about it, Manolo, shows the image succeeded). Such is the purpose of art, how it works, what makes it what it is.
* * *
Alonso E., you asked about the chase/flight nightmare comprising the first two minutes of "Pillars."
The nightmare is a vintage expression of and by an incomplete self.
As you note, Alonso, "Pillars of The Sea" practices what Hollywood preaches: "Cut to the chase." But the movie-makers´ cliché reveals more than any movie-maker realizes...
Every human psyche experiences unconscious archetypes. It is altogether a different matter, however, to be possessed by an archetype. As the cliché and endless stream of chase movies show, countless producers, directors and actors are possessed by the chase archetype. The archetype controls them, not vice versa. Firmly in the driver´s seat, the last thing their unconscious wants is what "Pillars" does: present the chase archetype in a manner that strips it of its autonomy, hence, dominance.
In Western culture, Mexico is often presented as a place where a chased person can get away (two movie examples: "Breathless" and "Thelma and Louise"). "Pillars" takes place in Mexico, so a new dimension arises. O.K., we made it to Mexico. Now what happens? The chase archetype is chased, hunted down..
As manifestations of an unconscious archetype, chase nightmares are common to all epochs and cultures -- from ancient Aztecs, Greeks and aboriginal Australians to contemporary Arabs, Americans and Chinese. Chase nightmares have their origin in infancy. (Falling is another example). My working hypothesis: infant dream themes are the primeval stuff of dramaturgy. Working in tandem, they drive "Pillars" to its inexorable end.
In a chase nightmare, the unconscious is trying to solve a problem. What is it? Well, if you are being chased, that means you have not been ... caught. All of which is normal in infants and small children.
The situation "Pillars" presents: Dion Totec, who has the chase nightmare, is 25 years old. He is facing the problem of psychological growth, of completion of the self. However, as we shall see, this coming-of-age movie is a lot more than a coming-of-age movie.
In short, the chase nightmare reverberates and elaborates the incomplete self depicted in the Tenochtitlan image.
* * *
Ernesto S., you want to see the image that Adriana, Dion Totec´s wife, saw through the eyehole in her door when secret police officer Comandante Lentes arrived. See above -- Lentes is the incarnation of Tezcatlipoca.
The ancient image is astounding. 99.9% of the world´s population never saw anything like it. Scholars have written scores of texts trying to decipher its meaning. For starters, which foot of Tezcatlipoca is forward, the right or the left? Why that ambiguous posture? Also, there is a mirror covering his right/left foot. A mirror-on-the-foot is clearly a psychological projection; the unconscious is sending a message. What is it? Could it be that when you attempt to think -- to reflect -- in realistic, grounded terms about Tezcatlipoca, he sends you back an image of yourself?
Again, unconscious archetypes are a characteristic of the human psyche; they are the same everywhere. However, different cultures develop them differently. The devil is a case in point. In Western culture, we know what the devil wants: souls. In Aztec culture, on the other hand, nobody ever knew what Tezcatlipoca wanted. Absolutely arbitrary; his actions were incomprehensible; ditto his thoughts. The result is truly worthy of a god: only wonder remains.
One thing is certain: as a hybrid of the devil and the god Fortuna, Tezcatlipoca outdid the Western devil in sheer malevolency. "Pillars of The Sea" ventures an explanation of Tezcatlipoca´s motivation, which was based not only on what is studiously unsaid in Aztec texts and paintings but also on my work with criminal psychopaths in a heavily-guarded, county hospital ward.
To sum up: the Spanish colonizers´ barbarism toward Indians; the incomplete development of the self and, hence, of self-identification; the chase nightmare as a manifestation of the incomplete self; finally, pre-Columbian archetypes, e.g., Tezcatlipoca, that equal -- in many instances, surpass -- in artistic merit their equivalents in Western culture: the three images are not just the concerns of Ernestina, Manolo and Ernesto. They also explain why "Pillars of The Sea" will not be made into movie in the lifetime of anybody reading these words now, 2013.
For why "Pillars" cannot be produced in Hollywood, see our post of June 17, 2013, "Stupid Movies Explained: One Cylinder Hollywood."
Production of "Pillars" is also impossible in Latin America, but for far deeper, more disturbing reasons...
* * *
"The entire world knows that different indigenous groups have narrative creations (in general, myths, legends, stories) of a great qualitative and quantitative richness. But those ´manifestations´ have not yet entered our ´official´ history of literature; they have been ´rescued´ and ´appreciated´ by anthropologists and folklorists. They are, then, anthropological or folkloric material -- but not literature. They were created in other languages...They belong to ´another world.´ They are not art. That is why they do not appear in any book of literary history, they do not take part in any teaching program; no literary critic, ever, studies them."**
-- Alfonso Carrasco Vintimilla --
The pre-Columbian world has been collected and described down to the most stifling lifeless detail -- cauterized by categorization.
Another world. Exotic, foreign. But why that outcome?
Alfonso Carrasco did not go further. I suspect the reason was the explanation has already been given -- thousands of times. You can shut your eyes and pull a book on Latin American history or culture off the shelf of any library or bookstore and get the same account, albeit with different nuances. The version I use here is Juan Valdano, Identidad y formas de ser de lo ecuatoriano,*** Echeletra Editorial, Quito, Ecuador, 2007. The book is insightful, rigorously researched, compelling; it deserves more attention.
Juan Valdano´s basic conclusion: two worlds, Spanish and Indian, are the central contradiction of Latin America. Those worlds are locked in combat (pp. 70-1).
Two worlds: dos mundos. In "Pillars," Dion Totec goes to a coin shop where we learn that the world-renowned "piece-of-eight" coin (see above), which is the source of the movie´s title, is known in numismatic circles as "Dos Mundos." Both worlds, old and new, are featured on the coin´s Plus Ultra pillars side that enchanted Dion.
"Plus ultra" --There is more beyond. "Pillars" explains where the two pillars are found, who put them there, what they mean. All things considered, it is hardly surprising that Plus Ultra became the motto of the European Renaissance.
In their combat, the two worlds are not equal. The white European is valued, esteemed. The Indian is devalued, considered inferior. Those prejudices were formed centuries ago during the colonial era. Nevertheless, as Juan Valdano notes, they are still the norm in Latin America today (119).
Totem and taboo, then. Valdano adds this nuance:
As Spain conquered and colonized Latin America, two streams of thought concerning Indians emerged.
(i) Indians were beasts -- what monkeys are to men (182). As such, Indians were born to be slaves (184).
(ii) To the contrary, the Spanish "humanist" school held that Indians were Homo sapiens, had souls, and, consequently, could be saved.
Valdano saw Spanish humanism as consisting of three phases.
(i) Salvation, 1511-1650. The priest Bartolomé de Las Casas was the major exponent. He argued that since Indians were humans it was morally wrong to pillage and kill them (181-8). Parenthetically, it is fully in keeping with Comandante Lentes, as the god of contradiction, that he would take Las Casas´ noble purpose and stand it on its head.
(ii) Covered/hidden, 1650-1750. After 150 years of conquest, disillusionment set in. Spanish humanists continued to see Indians as humans; however, Indians were deemed congenitally incapable of being civilized. Lazy, lying, drunkards, cowards (191): this is a textbook example of a Jungian shadow, viz., when a person cannot consciously accept his own negative traits, his unconscious furnishes relief by projecting them onto other people.
Since the Indian could not be changed, he had to be hidden. That cover-up is a key challenge "Pillars" confronts.
In a nutshell: "cover-up" humanists wanted to protect Indians from exploitation, which they viewed as a sin, but little more.
(iii) Self-discovery, 1770s to political independence (early 1800s). Latin America´s consciousness of its own identity started to form. Criollos (Spanish descent but born in the Americas), who yearned for recognition as "Spanish" from Spain but never got it, rebelled. Mestizos joined them in Latin America´s fights for independence. Dos mundos were now openly at war. In Mexico, that confrontation gave birth in 1810 to the lost treasure featured in "Pillars."
As for Indians during the self-discovery period:****
In 1700, the French took power in Spain. The coat of arms of Philip V, the first Bourbon king to head Spain, is featured on the other side of the 1732 "Dos Mundos" coin (Dion Totec showed no interest in the royal crest, unlike Comandante Lentes). Under the Bourbons, Spain declined as a colonial power. Among other "reforms," they increased tributes the Indians were forced to pay. The Indians revolted (283). Their resistance culminated in "La Grand Rebelión" of 1780, headed by Inca chief Túpac Amaru. But in fact, many Indians, mestizos and criollos sided with the Spanish. Túpac Amaru failed to conquer Cuzco, was betrayed and killed in 1781. Never again would Indians have such unifying leaders. They returned to feudal rural life, no longer a living political force (360).
I went into this digression because Spanish humanists are often portrayed as the Indians´ heroic saviors and protectors. Nobody disputes Las Casas´ noble intentions, and "Pillars" revives them -- takes us back to first principles -- twice: in the de Bry engraving and when Comandante Lentes´ dog attacks Acama´s baby. But the truth is that after Las Casas, humanism was detoured. Túpac Amaru´s rebellion made manifest the underlying ambivalence of self-discovery humanism. On the one hand, the criollos and mestizos hated the Spanish; on the other, they feared Indian revolts.
The eventual outcome of humanism was what Alfonso Carrasco observed. Indian culture was relegated to archeology -- "handled," managed, minded. Today, ceremonial acceptance is the watchword.
Valdano emphasizes that in Latin America, political independence did not bring mental independence. Europe and the United States were admired and emulated; Indians and their culture were stigmatized, cheapened (as the prior post noted, the Aztec world was reduced, caricaturized, to beating hearts cut out atop a pyramid). Not extinction but marginalization was the fitting finale for the Indian, whom criollos and mestizos had to admit/could not admit was part of themselves.
Juan Valdano identified a key characteristic shared by the Indian and mestizo. I think it accounts for a large part of Latin America´s incomplete collective self:
Both groups lack legitimacy. The great Indian Fathers (the Inca Atahualpa, the Aztec Moctezuma II) were killed by the Spaniards. As for the mestizos´ father, Spain rejected them. Orphaned, Indians and mestizos compensated with an excessive love of the mother and machismo (127-30). But those were not the only consequences...
I suspect that illegitimacy is indissoluble from a possession by the chase/flight archetype. In Latin America that possession takes two prominent forms:
(i) An exaggerated esteem of the foreign (101-2). A progeny of lust/rape -- the "Infamous Deed" (157) -- will tend to deny his origin rather than accept it. He has a "Bastard Complex" (101). He flees to the foreign, hoping to supersede in it his dubious, contradictory, ambiguous status in which both Spanish and Indians reject him (101-4). But filling himself with foreign material (122-3) does not solve his self-identity crisis. The "trickster is tricked;" he stuffs his life with trinkets, dreads silence and being alone (232-3). He feels hollow (120) -- which only spurs a quest for more foreign material.
And foreigners are throbbing at the bone to meet the demand. Latin Americans who cannot afford to travel abroad can turn on the TV any time day or night and see an endless flow of anal-retentive, retinal junk food piped in from Los Angeles, Miami, New York.*****
(ii) A flight behind masks and pretending. Valdano observed that in Latin America, "to pretend was all-important." (126) The "mask is converted into our face and the lie into a form of truth" (127). The attitude of escape, then, became a way of being -- a negative one, the bottom of the contradiction. "By denying himself he affirmed himself; by hiding he was found; by disguising himself he was uncovered." (197) Flight behind masks, by pretending, may have originated with Spanish conquistadores and colonizers, many of whom were nobodies in their native land (117-8).
"Pillars" directly challenges flight. In observations taken from Aztec texts, Acamca declares Comandante Lentes to be a "foreigner" -- "The Enemy of Both Sides." In the movie´s climax, the unmasking of Lentes, it all comes down, literally and figuratively. What the spectator sees is totally unpredicted -- yet absolutely predictable: it was wired up by "Pillars" in a way that is perceived unconsciously. When Dion Totec pushes the button, the audience becomes aware of what it already knew.
We come to the proverbial bottom line:
In addition to a generalized possession of film-makers by the chase/flight archetype, there are two additional reasons why "Pillars of The Sea" will not be made into a movie in Latin America. Given not only (i) the outright rejection of the Indian but also -- and simultaneously -- (ii) the ambiguous status accorded to and ambivalent feelings surrounding him, the foundation of "Pillars" in pre-Columbian archetypes is simply unacceptable.
Latin American producers and directors will leap out their chairs, proclaim and defame to the stars above that what you just read is untrue. They will tell you the real problem is there is no audience for, hence no money in, a movie with pre-Columbian roots. Sorry, gentlemen, but numerous indicators, e.g., tourist industry statistics, show that argument is utter nonsense. Every year, from all over the world, over a million people travel to Machu Picchu; over a million visit Chichén Itzá; over a million go to Teotihuacan. Why do the crowds keep coming? What are they searching for in the pre-Columbian world? How many more people would join them if they had money for travel?
In the end, centuries-old prejudices against simply unacceptable Indian archetypes are so strong they outweigh the desire to make money. Latin American movie-makers have ideological promises to keep; a hidden political agenda has priority. We will return to it.
* * *
Another reader, Salvador J., noticed that "Pillars" associates Dion Totec with two colors, red and yellow. "Are they significant?" I saved his question for last because it elicits an expansion on something just mentioned, ambivalent attitudes.
Another manifestation of an incomplete self, those attitudes are a major theme of "Pillars." The Aztecs had an acute sensitivity to ambivalence, ambiguities, contradictions, paradoxes. (Illustration: water is both life-sustaining and life-destroying).
In Aztec mythology, each god/goddess had his/her own colors. The color assignment was inflexible and consistent with Aztec daily life where clothes made the man.
Dion Totec is based on Xipe Totec, god of rebirth. Red and yellow were Xipe Totec´s designated colors. I stuck with them not only out of a concern for authenticity vis-a-vis Aztec culture,****** but also because those colors reveal something fundamental about Latin America.
(i) Red and yellow have collective/historical significance. They appear on the flags of Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, as well as Spain.
(ii) All colors are charged with symbolic meaning. Red is the color of passion, love, anger, excitement. Restaurants and theaters have red interiors to start gastric appetites flowing. Yellow, on the other hand, is the color of caution, transition, danger. It is by no means gratuitous that on stoplights around the world, yellow is the transition between stop and go.
Red and yellow = passion accompanied by caution = ambivalence. Make that strong ambivalence.
Ambivalence paralyzes... Here, the hidden political agenda mentioned above rises to the surface:
Foreign powers do not want Latin America to develop either its economy or its self-identity. Had they wanted to do otherwise, they would have shown so by now. Which raises this question: why the reluctance?
A condition of dependency always creates ambivalent feelings. In turn, ambivalent feelings always create and maintain a condition of dependency. The entertainment industry of the United States is dedicated to that proposition. As suggested earlier, its prepackaged individualism strives to substitute for a self -- be it ever so tormented by ambivalence, contradictions and questions of legitimacy -- a hollow tube. By denying himself, the Latin American affirms himself.
Torn asunder by dos mundos; possessed by the chase archetype; haunted by doubts of legitimacy; embarked on flights to the foreign, behind masks and pretending (acting): unable to face, much less accept, their Indian origin, Latin American film-makers take out the flute and play along with their northern neighbor. The exceptions can be counted on one hand.
* * *
The solution is as simple as it is hard.
Juan Valdano pinpointed it in his discussion of the dos mundos contradiction:
"Contradiction is part of our identity. The road is to confront the paradox, not to flee from it -- to make it live not as a contradiction or schizophrenia but as plurality and richness, as a diversity that fertilizes unity."*******
Wherever there are totems, there are taboos. The opposite is also true. Until Latin America accepts its tabooed Indian origin as an undissolvable and indispensable part of its self-identity,******** it will be incapable of confronting the dos mundos paradox, much less of transforming it into something valued, prized -- if not totemic. In cultural and political terms, that inability condemns the region to ambivalence, hence to a destiny that already exists: a condition of dependency -- somebody´s colony. The worst fate of all would be if the colonizer eventually turns out to be not the United States or China, but Latin America.
"Pillars of The Sea" intended to show the universal value of pre-Columbian archetypes -- that Aztec myths and legends are not just art but great art worthy of far more than ceremonial acceptance. Whether "Pillars" succeeded or failed, that purpose doomed the movie in advance not to be produced in the foreseeable future. 500 years of prejudice, fear, suspicions, cover-up, self-doubt, ambivalence and marginalization topped off by adverse, powerful, hegemonic political interests, were too much to overcome.
For that situation to change, what "Pillars" sought must become more assumed.
Post Script. This exposition of "Pillars of The Sea" was only partial. It did not address political economy issues.
*For those who do not think such things actually happened, click on: http://www.amazon.com/Dogs-Conquest-John-Grier-Varner/dp/0806117931.
**"Todo el mundo sabe que las diferentes nacionalidades indígenas tienen producciones narrativas (mitos, leyendas, relatos, en general) de una gran riqueza (en lo cualitativo y en lo cuantitativo). Pero ´esas´manifestaciones´ no han entrado todavía en nuestra historia literaria, a la ´oficial´. Han sido ´rescatadas´, ´valoradas´ por antropólogos y folkloristas. Son material antropólogo o folklórico. Pero no literatura. Están compuestas en otros idiomas... Pertenecen a ´otro mundo´. No son arte. Por lo mismo, no aparecen en ningún manual de historia literaria, no constan en ningún programa de enseñanza; nunca ningún crítico literario las estudia." Alfonso Carrasco Vintimilla, El Único Puente Posible: Obra Crítica, Universidad de Cuenca, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2008, pp. 429-30.
***Juan Valdano writes in a well-established tradition of Latin American collective identity analysts of which Octavio Paz was a central figure (The Labyrinth of Solitude, 1950). Valdano focuses his observations on Ecuador and the mestizo; however, we think his observations are applicable grosso modo to Latin America. Beware: in the dos mundos conflict and its ramifications, huge variations exist among Latin American countries, e.g., Uruguay is 88% European, 6% mestizo, 1% Indian. Bolivia is 55% Indian, 30% mestizo, 14% European.
In fact, key aspects of Valdano´s analysis go beyond Latin America.
The intermediate/transitional/marginal condition of the mestizo can be seen as a case study of the larger middle class phenomenon analyzed in The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion. Our model was formed from anthropological studies, notably Arnold van Gennep (The Rites of Passage), Mary Douglas (Purity and Danger) and Franz Steiner (Taboo, Truth and Religion), as well as Sigmund Freud (Totem and Taboo) and Giorgio Agamben (Homo Sacer). To be clear: middle class in this larger context is not synonymous with the social-economic middle class; the difference between them is (very) roughly comparable to what a phylum is to a class.
Valdano notes the intermediate/transitional/marginal status of the mestizo is conducive to nihilism and alcholism (157-8). The Source of Terrorism analyzed how an intermediate condition or status is indispensable to the creation of middle class rebellion -- the primogenitor of terrorism.
****Valdano passes over the Indians in his discussion of humanism´s self-discovery phase which pertained mainly to criollos and mestizos. For Indians in the 1770s to political independence period, we turn to HIstoria de América Andina, Vol. 3, "El Sistema Colonial Tardío," Universidad Andina Simón Bolivar, Quito, 2000.
*****Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Pitbull: most "Latin" stars served up by the American media cannot sustain more than a rudimentary conversation in Spanish. Knowledge of a language, however, remains the obligatory admittance ticket for membership in any community or ethnic group. The upshot: Latin Americans look to the United States for relief from ambiguity; what they receive from the U.S. entertainment industry is ambiguity reinforced, magnified. By consolidating pre-existing perceptions and sentiments as opposed to creating new ones, U.S. "Latin" actors and singers are approved for mass consumption -- and for massive paychecks.
Approved by whom?
One American Grande Dame -- she makes more money clipping coupons watching a 30-minute iCarly rerun than you earn working hard all year -- ensconced in a chair worthy of Louis XIV, summed it all up in two words: Our Hispanics.
******What awaits a movie lacking authenticity about Latin America:
A chase movie if there ever was one, Mel Gibson´s "Apocalypto" to its credit was filmed entirely in the Mayan language. The movie grossed $50 million and cleared $10 million; it would have made a lot more had it not botched and butchered Mayan culture so badly the Indians denounced it. Hearts cut out atop a pyramid ... really ... It is painfully obvious that Mel and crew never read the Popol Vuh -- or if they did, did not understand it.
Not all Hollywood movies about Latin America are culture-bound and lack credibility. Back in 1952, when Hollywood could tell a story, John Steinbeck and Elia Kazan got it right in "Viva Zapata." Steinbeck had numerous lengthy interviews with people who worked with and fought beside Zapata. Result: there are numerous things in the film that only Mexicans know about. Authenticity = real drama.
*******"La contradicción es parte de nuestra identidad. El camino es afrontar la paradoja, no el huirla;...hacerla vivir, digo, no como contradicción o esquizofrenia sino como pluralidad y riqueza, como diversidad que fecunda la unidad." (61)
********In Jungian terms, Latin America must acknowledge, assimilate and use constructively its Indian shadow (Valdano, 134). Because the shadow is an artifice of the unconscious, you can argue against it "rationally" and "morally" all you want; you will get nowhere. "Pillars of The Sea" takes a completely different approach.