Letters

Almost as Long as the Film
I am writing in response to Michael Sragow's review of Men With Guns, "Guns N' Poses" (April 2). According to Mr. Sragow, "The film's moral is that white culture is evil and virulent -- so evil that it leaves nothing but scorched earth behind it, so virulent that it turns Indians white. (All they have to do is put on a military uniform.) While bourgeois, Spanish-speaking city-dwellers lead cosmopolitan lives, wealthy landowners in the hinterland uproot natives and force them into ruinous cash-crop agriculture -- or they simply get the army to murder them. The only way for Indians to escape the tragic forces of capitalism and imperialism is to ascend to the mountaintop."

White culture is not inherently evil. However, the doctor does represent the culture of all those who are immersed in the comforts of daily urban life while completely ignoring (willingly or not) the plight of those less fortunate and those lacking resources. Sayles does stereotype the white culture as being the evil one. However, I see it more as a representation of all of us that have been both blind and deaf to the plights of others.

Mr. Sragow says, "If his filmmaking had fire and poetry, it would elicit the mixture of despair and euphoria you get while watching the work of great political directors such as Gillo Pontecorvo (The Battle of Algiers, Burn) or Francesco Rosi (The Moment of Truth). Unfortunately, even when Sayles dabbles in tricky flashback structures or magic realism, he's ploddingly melodramatic."

To me the film is all about self-awareness and opening your eyes not only to the realities in other cultures but also the realities that surround us and [which] we would rather ignore. The film is not about satisfying our artistic desires and fantasies. It is about communicating a message and creating a change.

The movie is highly symbolic in nature. It is not supposed to mimic real life faithfully. As such, the doctor's "ridiculous" optimism in light of "vivid evidence to the contrary" only reflects our daily ignorance of obvious problems that surround us, which we tend to ignore. Anyone walking past the "vivid evidence" of homelessness and poverty in our country is doing exactly the same thing the doctor is doing -- ignoring his obvious surroundings and not allowing "images to lodge in our minds." Sayles is not flawed in this. He is right on the mark.

Sragow writes, "Each of the misfit fellow-travelers the doctor meets along the way is a scholar of atrocity. A jaded, smart-mouthed urchin (Dan Rivera Gonzalez) takes him to a killing field and swings a human bone as if it were a baseball bat; a defrocked priest (Damian Alcazar) calls himself a ghost and admits he saved his own life at the expense of his flock; a runaway soldier (Damian Delgado) confesses the moral trauma of his army initiation -- the murder of a helpless man. (He also raped a helpless woman.) Nonetheless the doctor keeps hoping to find that his medical outreach program has done some good."

Once again, the doctor is simply a mirror of who we are -- eternal optimists that the homeless and hungry man at the corner will make it and survive.

Coming from a Latin culture, I understand the psychology that is at work in this environment. Certainly our standard of living is high and comfortable. The class system is very much at work. If one advances, one doesn't look back. One carries on, has wonderful dinners, goes and meets higher-class people, and moves one. However, those are the very empty and malicious attitudes that Sayles wants to reveal. Believe me, people in these types of environments seldom have time to think about or act on how to improve society's lot in wholesale.

"Despite the smart-alecky edge to some of the dialogue, Men With Guns has an implicit, brutal sanctimony. Sayles largely ignores any fruitful interactions between whites and Indians." Societally significant (other than functional) interactions between these two groups is a problem. It is important for Sayles to make that point.

"The doctor proves to be so out of it that he's unworthy of exemplifying what Goldman calls 'the dilemma of the conscious liberal' caught between political extremes. Indeed, the hero is almost as irrelevant as the picture's comic-relief tourists (Mandy Patinkin and Kathryn Grody): enlightened, educated Americans who end up looking ridiculous because they're not sufficiently politically engaged."

As a matter of fact, those who know and ignore are worse (and therefore more ridiculous) than those who don't know at all in the first place. How can you expect the American tourists to be politically engaged when all they care about is their two-week vacation to hike through the jungle to reach an ancient site.

My read: beautiful movie!
Miguel Polanco
San Antonio, Texas

 
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