Monday, September 10, 2007

Our Lady of the Assassins - Dimensions of Relevance and Meaning


The independently released film by Barbet Schroeder "Our Lady of the Assassins" (La Virgen de los Sicarios) in 2000 attacks the very core of identity. We are pushed to explore questions on identity not only in terms of gender and race but on the actual essence of self—who we are as individual human beings, and furthermore, charges upon the fundamental concern of identity which respectfully interrogates the purpose of our existence. “Our Lady of the Assassins” proves to be an effective medium of political socialization: the film engrosses its audience into acquiring certain political orientations amidst the backdrop of a society—which, although based on historical events in Colombia, could also easily be related to contemporary times in many other countries like ours, the Philippines. The unraveling of the story is an effective learning process which the audience can acquire the juxtaposition of socio-political beliefs and values of both the past and present generations. This was executed by presenting a plot development in which the main protagonists reveal their (varying or similar) outlook on existentialism through the everyday situations they experience together, all of which is weaved beautifully and supported by the director’s choice of varying audio-visual techniques.

A central concern of the film is the real, everyday lives of individuals as human beings. The film immediately exposes this through the use of natural lighting (no spotlights, special effects) which gives the cinematography a very crisp quality like that of an amateur recording or perhaps a television drama series (or telenovela, as popularized in Latin American countries). Furthermore, reality is emphasized by the casting of actual Colombian street kids to play the role of Alexis, Wilmar and the other boys. As the audience monitors the encounter of Fernando, a successful writer who has gone back to his hometown Medellin to die, and 16-year old ex-gang member Alexis and their eventual pedophilic, homosexual relationship, it is easily recognized that their surrounding environment is that of a city life which has diminished into individualism; the supposed sense of community is abolished as shown in scenes where the public shows extremely little concern about the youth being shot dead in broad daylight. The motto in the streets is centered on the individual and anxiety lies solely on keeping one’s self alive, irregardless of what happens to anybody else.


This mirrors the ideology of liberalism, which is a product of the breakdown of feudalism and the eventual growth of a capitalist society. Individualism is the core principle of the liberalism; the film’s terrifying scenes as a result to the individualistic nature of present-day Colombia could be a subtle attack on the ideology of the industrialized West. Liberalism’s core value is freedom, which is even given priority over equality, justice and authority (Haywood 44). Liberalists advocate “freedom under law” but in societies like Colombia where the law is highly skewed, the value of freedom to do as one pleases takes on a highly contestable facet. The attack on this Western ideology is reinforced through Fernando’s open criticism of government—he doesn’t care who the public official is, he thinks they are all the same. This is also put into context of Colombian history since their government officials revolve around a composition of a corrupt, elite group. All of this can be compared to the socialist ideology which hails community, fraternity, social equality, need, and common ownership—all of which can be exemplified in the film. The relationship of Fernando and Alexis (and later, Wilmar) put into extreme the value of fraternity or ‘brotherhood’; the gang wars would not occur if gangs were not so individualistic since the sense of competition with rival gangs pits individuals against each other which breeds resentment, conflict and hostility (Haywood, 52). Sympathy for equality also reflects the socialist belief that material benefits should be distributed on the basis of need rather than merit (Haywood, 52) as was shown when one of the street boys shares his food with beggars, satisfying their basic need of alleviating hunger.

The daily lives shown in the film touch upon the aspect of existence or purpose of everyday people, when Fernando states, “If you’re not on television, you don’t exist.” Once again this attacks the Western concept of media wherein Hollywood glamour has somewhat become a basis of one’s importance in this world. The soundtrack of the film shows contrast between the very cultural-sounding songs of the past which reflected on their Latin society, while today’s music is but a blur of loud, Western instruments to make some sort of noise—there seems to be a nostalgic plea to challenge today’s youth to be more supportive of local, non-pop culture. Additionally, since television proliferated only in the recent decades, Fernando’s view symbolizes the contrasting lives of people in the past generation and those of today. The daily television shows of violence mum the hypothetically-deafening sounds of gunshots and dismiss the supposedly-devastating loss of life: Fernando mourns when he hears a quiet rendition of an old song which reminds him of his family’s death, while Alexis, who is easily an example of many of today’s youth, sets aside the loud shots of his weapon and only trembles at the sight of death when it is of a dog.


This brings forth the queries regarding existence, which the film presents as having an ultimate outcome of absolute despair. Fernando constantly lamented on the degradation of the quality of human life in Medellin, which is ironic since it is a starch contrast on the fundamental realities of the religion that his culture is heavily rested upon—that of Christianity—which declares that "for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life" (Bible, John 3:16). The director specifically chose a society that is highly influenced by Christianity because this is the one religion that advocates salvation through faith alone, “that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16), and that “it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God, not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). The film challenges the audience to rethink about our existence and the consequent concept salvation. Presented are characters who are generally regarded as highly immoral—homosexuals, murderers, pedophiles—yet Christianity states that even “all liars… their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8) which therefore includes every single person—pope, saint, average teenager. By accepting that “Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life and no one goes to the Father but through Him” (John 14:6), one is given the promise to be relieved from hell—and yet Fernando found himself in a circular pattern of despair. Interestingly, Fernando did not understand the workings of the society he lived in—he did not exercise his God- given freewill to choose and accept Jesus Christ, and similarly, did not use his state-given freewill to be proactively involved in changing the dire circumstances.

Another central concern of the film is the everyday lives of individuals as citizens of a country. Fernando dismisses the problems with regards to the government, not allotting any of his precious time to criticize the obvious failure of their political system; he, however, allocates much time in criticizing his fellow citizens, particularly the poor. He condemns poverty as a self-inflicted punishment since he observes that when "you put two poor together… pretty soon they'll spawn ten more"—the poor complain about their situation yet they do not do anything to uplift their conditions. This must, conversely, be thrown back to Fernando, who does very little to transform his pitiable country; rather, he wishes to leave his native land once again and this time, even drags along with him a failed hope of their country. In today’s world where emigration in search for a better future is alarmingly prevalent, especially in less developed countries, the film presents the ideal situation of how fate seems to forbid Fernando to leave once more—the ideal situation wherein whiny, highly critical yet indolent citizens are shoved back into their home country, with the pains of reality thrust at them and the irrevocable responsibility to help in any way severely slapped into their beings.


The film portrays despair at its peak—not in times of war and other highly enthralling events but during the dullest days of our existence. The film shows life being devalued to a lower status than that of a street dog. Fernando, who in spite of being a well-traveled, highly cultured and educated older man, is plagued with the basic and elementary (to some) inquisitions of our existence in this world. The film also presents the stench of the individualistic nature in societies like ours—that in order to uplift the quality of life, we must turn our backs against selfish desires and work in unity. In essence, the films zooms in to each and every member of its audience—we are left to ponder upon the desperate realities of our lives and asked what we are doing about this, and then puts us in the perspective of an individual citizen in the plethora of people of our beloved nation.

- S. Tan


Dynamics of Social Elements in the Perpetuation of Misery - La Virgen de los Sicarios or better known as Our Lady of the Assassins is a film by Barbet Schroeder released in 2000 with cast Germán Jaramillo as Fernando, Anderson Ballesteros as Alexis and Juan David Restrepo as Wilmar. The film is set in present day Colombia in its third largest city, the city of Medellin.

In this film, we are taken into a journey alongside Fernando, a writer and a native of Medellin who has come back into this changed society after three decades of absence and his reason for coming back—to die. Upon his return to Medellin, he is introduced by his old friend to Alexis, a young boy rumored to be the lone survivor of a gang that was wiped out. Their meeting turns into a budding relationship where both find themselves “in love” and sharing each other’s company as they explore Medellin from church to church, appliance stores to appliance stores, and murders to murders. All throughout their journey, they portray the brutality, the hopelessness and the lawlessness of Medellin, the birthplace of Colombia’s most powerful cocaine cartel.

As we immerse ourselves into this movie, we immediately get the hint of the movies’ powerful and saddening theme—the misery of a hopeless society. A society where life is cheap, crime is the norm, cocaine is the lubricant, evil triumphs and the “good” is left doing nothing. These are all manifested throughout the film in subtle portrayals as well as striking and graphic scenes that really show us and slap us in the face of the utter misery of these people’s lives.

In tackling this film, especially for a political science course, we shall do away with focusing at the main characters themselves but instead we shall use them as our medium in analyzing the elements of this movie that we intend to analyze. For this brief article, we shall be dealing with the theme that we had just mentioned above—the misery of a hopeless society, wherein we shall dissect the elements (as found in the film) that perpetuate the existence of such a condition. To clearly state it; we shall look into the dynamics/interaction of the social elements that contribute to a condition of misery as related within the film Our Lady of the Assassins). In our dissection of this film, we shall frame our approach within the post-modernist model in the view of Michel Foucault (The Carceral, 1977). Whereby in such a view, provided in the core aspect of post-modernism which is the dismantling of all forms of knowledge, Foucault (1977) adds, based on his “The Carceral”, the conditions arising from the Mettray penal colony reaches a state in which “the power to punish is made natural and legitimate” and the existence of a fixed source of power and authority dematerializes resulting with each having the capacity to exact power and punish those who resist/disobey. For our dissection of this film, such provisions would elicit the kind of analysis that we aim to achieve.


Using the aforementioned paradigm, we now tackle each social element and situate them within our analysis and see how each element contribute to the existing conditions of Medellin. A key element we can derive immediately out of the film is the culture of violence. We first encounter this in the film when Fernando and Alexis come out of the church and suddenly find themselves in the midst of a gunfight between two gangs that ends up with many of them killed. As Alexis mentions, these gangs have been at each other’s throats since the death of Pablo Escobar (head of the Medellin cocaine cartel) and the sadder thing is that both gangs share the same neighborhood of Santo Domingo Savio. This culture of violence is further manifested in the movie as Fernando heads for the drugstore and sees a man gunned down by a carjacker. Fernando then realizes that such violence is not only committed by those barbarians in the streets but also by his partner Alexis as he shoots their “hippie” neighbor as they encounter him in the streets. The violence continues all throughout the movie—the taxi drivers’ death, the men in the train, the Kawasaki and Yamaha riders who tried to kill Alexis and even the riders that finally got Alexis. This violence is a result, in the post-modernist view of the absence of authority and in the state of chaos in the equal capacity of each in exacting power and punishment and is perpetuated by another factor that we shall now discuss (we shall revisit this element later).

Another element that is subtly manifested in the movie is the cocaine trade of Medellin and as mentioned, this perpetuates the violence within the city. We consider this as an element for our analysis since, as can be assessed, the cocaine trade or the cocaine itself has become the currency in Medellin—where money materializes as a result of the cocaine trade and thus making it the fuel that continues the fire of violence. As the cocaine reaches North American territory, almost the entire city celebrates with fireworks and celebrations as what Fernando and Alexis saw from the balcony. In a way, the cocaine trade is portrayed as the whole economy of the city, it is what keeps the city alive and this is further implied as Fernando and Alexis talk about Escobar and the hero nature of Escobar’s endeavors in the cocaine trade. Situating this element within our frame, in a way, the cocaine trade is an actor within this paradigm that has allocated enough power from the post-modernist chaos of and perhaps implemented ample punishment to the point that it has established a certain degree of authority within the city of Medellin. Thus we have gangs that owe their allegiances or simply work for these businesses and in many instances, they kill for the continued existence of their business thus violence is perpetuated. From these two elements, we can already see an interaction; we further expand this with our next element.

Colombia after all, is still a state ergo a government that runs it, and Medellin is not an exemption from that governments’ control. However, that control has already waned to the point that we see very little of it in the movie. In a subtly manner, the role of the government was shown in the small screen of Fernando’s TV and its waning power is further implied with Alexis shooting the TV showing the president of Colombia with the boy cursing at the president for all the lies and empty promises. The decreasing authority of the government, as explained within the post-modernist view is basically the result of the diminishing concept of a single authority, in a way; it is denied functionality though (with our assumption) it still has a little function. This function could possibly be the regulation of the cocaine trade and thus, the government is a counter balance to the previous element we discussed.


Finally, the last element we shall use for our analysis in what perpetuates the misery of Medellin is the element of reproduction, basically the never ending breeding of the people that results in the constant increase of people in and around Medellin. Another subtly presented component; where Fernando remarks about the constant breeding of the poor, when 2 breed, they spawn 10. As well as manifested with the beggar lady with her kids—where despite the harshest of living conditions, she still brought two more mouths to feed under the same harsh and cruel conditions.

With these elements from the movie, under the post-modernist frame, we now sew all these together to get a possible explanation of why such conditions persist in the movie’s setting. With the cocaine trade getting most out of the chaotic state of Medellin and being the established means of survival (by way of it providing jobs, money, etc) for the population. It is basically a major determining component in the existing condition of misery in Medellin, whereby, through the cocaine trade, aside from people being mostly “crack heads”, gangs and people in general end up killing each other for it. Thus adding and perpetuating the condition of misery (coke + violence=miseryx2) while the government, with minimal functionality still exerts a measure of regulation to the coke trade and thus, the coke trades’ power is limited to a point where it is not terminated but also does not excess in the accumulation of power thus the danger of Medellin becoming coke country (even more chaotic) is hindered while all the killings also becomes a mechanism by which to balance the misery contributing element of reproduction. An increasing population under those conditions portrayed in the film results in miserable conditions and its non-regulation would result in, as Fernando remarks, “the world would go boom!” hence, in that context, the existing culture of violence counters the reproduction aspects thus limiting misery caused by the increase of the population. So, at this point, we have the government limiting the coke while the coke perpetuates the violence that also counters the misery of overpopulation, thus, in the totality of this rather simplistic approach, the conditions of misery is neither getting worse nor getting better but instead is constant since the elements that exist within this society (from a post-modernist view) continue to interact with each other and out of all the total chaos that exist, there is instead the level at which it settles and thus becomes the existing and persisting condition—and in this case, the condition of misery, where life is worthless, death everywhere, and existence is miserable.

References:
Foucault, Michel, The Carceral in Part 3 of Reading in Social Theory: The Classic Tradition to Post-Modernism (McGraw-Hill Inc). 1993 edited by Farganis, James
Our Lady of the Assassins reviewed By George O. Singleton accessed on September 6, 2007 from http://www.reelmoviecritic.com/20037q/id1917.htm
Microsoft ® Encarta ® Premium Suite 2005. © 1993-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

- R. Ruaya

23 comments:

mAc said...

Existential despair. Within the movie such theme points to two idiosyncratic level of analysis: one at the societal level, the other at the individual. The former refers to the crime-plagued city of Medellin, Colombia; where the infamous drug kingpin Pablo Escobar floods the society established therein with cocaine. The latter, on the other hand, refers to a homosexual’s forlornness and despair; whose purpose in coming back to his hometown is to end his life.

On a holistic approach, the film Our lady of Assassins showcases Medellin, Colombia as a place where people are pestered with despair. Escobar floods the city with cocaine. In turn, hoodlums and assassins alike flock the streets, protecting their own “trade” territories; many of which are still in their youth. Moreover, other than drugs, guns are regarded as the main currency of such individuals. Indiscriminate killings characterize normal life within it. In addition, the non-presence of police and the glimpses of politicians that we see on TV screens merely serve to remind us of their incapacity to intervene in fixing the social chaos within. With all things considered, a “culture of assasins” is institutionalized.

Accordingly, we can deduce that the societal disarray within Medellin points to the indisputable fact of a “collective” existential despair: what is the essence of their lives, consequently, what is their purpose. Such questions are depicted in the film as somewhat belonging to the lower level of people’s priorities. This in turn justifies killings. Furthermore, the government remains inutile on resolving the drug trade which is the fundamental source of the prevalence of crimes: people killing people. The depiction of the police’s non-interference with such illicit activities further sustains their ascendancy.

On an individual approach, on the other hand, the film presents the cynical homosexual Fernando whose primary purpose in coming back to his hometown is to die. However, his reason d’etre is affirmed after meeting a young boy named Alexis in an all-gay party. The love chemistry between the two soon develops. The next thing we know, the two are already living together at an empty apartment. Little by little, Fernando buys Alexis his requests: apparels, television, aiwa radio, etc. In return, the young boy pays Fernando a homosexual intercourse. In addition, Alexis kills an annoying drummer who lives across their apartment and a cabbie driver who won’t tone down his stereo for Fernando’s sake. However, the mutual relationship between the two is ended with Alexis’ assassination committed by someone whom he had disputed with. Subsequently, Fernando meets Wilmar, another young boy whom he started to court. He buys the young man with whatever he wants. In exchange, both live under one roof. After sometime, Fernando realizes that Wilmar was that someone who shot Alexis. With a vengeance in mind, Fernando plans to kill Wilmar at a motel room. However, not wanting to make a repeat of history, Fernando simply chooses to accept the reality that Alexis is dead. In the end, Wilmar is killed by other assassins on his way home to deliver a refrigerator for his mom that Fernando bought.

Within the context of existentialism, Jean Paul Sarte asserts that human nature is fundamentally free. This according to him means that consciousness and humans themselves are essentially free, and that any attempt by an individual person to believe otherwise is a form of self-deception, or “bad faith”. Thus, one’s existence is based on the choices he makes. However, corollary to man’s freedom is the integrity, action, and responsibility that go together with it (freedom). As John Mill argues, “Your right starts where mine ends, my freedom starts, where yours ends”. This is very evident of Fernando’s character. The authenticity of Fernando’s existence is depicted by his gender preference. In identifying his gender role, he does not negate other people’s capability of choosing. His decision not to kill Wilmar is likewise indicative of this. On the other hand, we can view Medellin society as a whole whose existence is inauthentic. Mainly, their choice of killing other people brings to a closure the choices that should have been made by those ‘killed’ people.

Ironically, the freedom of human consciousness is experienced by humans as a burden in the form of anguish, forlornness and despair which we can perceive of Medellin society. Because the impossibility of this attempt to become a conscious thing – in Sartre's terminology, a for-itself-in-itself – does not prevent humans from being irresistibly drawn to undertake it, Sartre declares that “man is a useless passion”. Hence he claims “man is condemned to be free”.

The line that binds individual freedom to choose and society together within the parameter of political socialization is rule of law. Under rule of law, the authority of law does not depend so much on law’s instrumental capabilities, but on its degree of autonomy, that is, the degree to which law is distinct and separate from other normative structures such as politics and religion. As an autonomous legal order, rule of law has at least three meanings. However, within the context of the film, the second purpose of rule of law bears heavier significance to this discussion: equality before law. This refers us back to Mills argument “Your right starts where mine ends, my freedom starts, where yours ends”. Corollary to our freedom is the integrity, action, and responsibility that go together with it (freedom). It is not so much that society limits our choices but is much of our perception that the society can also impose on us the same negative (threatening) choices we made e.g. I kill you, your family, government, etc. kills me.

In conclusion, the authenticity of our existence is defined by the choices we make. Our purpose in life is to enjoy such freedom, without limiting the freedom of others.

Tamondong

alejandro said...

"La virgen de los sicarios (international title: Our Lady of the hitmen [or assassins]) is a [2000] film by Barbet Schroeder about a Colombian author in his fifties who returns to his hometown of Medellín after 30 years of absence to find himself trapped in an atmosphere of violence and murder caused by drug cartel warfare. It is adapted from the novel of the same title by Fernando Vallejo." (Wikipedia 2007) My thesis statement for this film is that: The ineffectiveness of the state to provide security to its people could lead to high rates of violence and murder, and possibly become a failed state.

The state is expected to provide satisfaction and security to its people. That is why, based on Hobbes' argument on how to get out of the state of nature, people have to choose "a law-giver and a law enforcer by agreement. Choose a man, or body of men and [authorize] everything that they do. The choice of law-enforcer and law-giver is the moment of contract. It is then that political power is created." (www.revision-notes.co.uk, 2001-03) However, if a state would be ineffective in securing its people, man could go back to his state of nature, and resort to preserving his life according to his own terms and conditions.

According to Hobbes (www.revision-notes.co.uk, 2001-03):

"The state of nature is the natural condition of man, in which there exists no state. Without government, and the settled social living that government makes possible, men would all roughly equal.
"No [one] is much stronger than another, and as such, each man could be killed by stealth. Because of this, men are suspicious of one another. Thus, men avoid each other. Security is the prime consideration. Each man would strive for security and thus dominion over others - but each being [roughly] equal in ability, would not be able to achieve this.
"Aggression would be compounded because one would never know what one had to do to preserve one's life. One's right to preserve one's life - what Hobbes calls 'the right of nature' - may involve killing another. But one has the right to do this so long as one feels that one's life is in danger.
"The state of nature is a state of war, because life in the state of nature has the inevitable tendency to lead to war. Although there are pauses in the fighting, this is still the state of war, as war is [characterized] by intervals in fighting.
"Life in the state of nature is miserable. There is little economic progress and little happiness."

The people of the state could resort to murder and violence with the use of arms, particularly guns. As what was seen in the film, most of the people - particularly male teenagers who were gang members - in Medellin owned guns as a means to secure their lives since each of their lives was constantly at stake. As for Alexis and Wilmar, they had their gun with them at all times to protect their life whenever the need arises.

Due to the ineffectiveness of the state to secure its people, the state could become a failed state. What is a "failed state"? According to Wikipedia (2007), "a failed state is a state whose central government is so weak or ineffective that it has little practical control over much of its territory." Based on the film, the government could not control the violence happening in its country. In fact, due to the massive and seemingly uncontrollable violence, the president did not even bother to say anything that would involve possible governmental efforts to control, prevent, and even eradicate violence - particularly killings - in the country. It was as if the government and the people took violence and killings as part of everyday life, and that everyone had given up on addressing these issues.

To further expound on the concept of the failed state, I would like to use the Failed States Index (2005). This index is comprised of indicators - economic, social and political - of state vulnerability. For the purpose of this comment, I would like to focus on the political indicators, specifically on the criminalization and delegitimization of the state. Based on the Failed States Index from Wikipedia (2007), "criminalization and [delegitimization] of the state [refers to the] endemic corruption or profiteering by ruling elites and resistance to transparency, accountability and political representation. [It] includes any widespread loss of popular confidence in state institutions and processes." Indeed, based on the film, no governmental effort was shown that would have implied the government's accountability on the violence happening among its people in the country. No news whatsoever was shown that would have indicated the government and the media's transparency. No news was seen on television with regard to killings. In short, nothing said on the news reflected what was happening in the state. Violence-related events were seemingly taken as part of everyday life. Since they were taken as "ordinary," and media would only want to take events that are exciting and new as part of the news, I think that is one possible reason why no news on television shown in the film talked about violated-related issues. Moreover, due to the lack of transparency, people barely had any trust at all on the government, specifically as shown in media. The people could even have viewed the government and the media as the "enemies of the people." As what was seen in the film, Alexis shot the television while the president was delivering a speech. As I understood its implication, it was Alexis's way of "killing" the president.

For me, the film "La virgen de los sicarios" was a highly effective medium of political socialization. After watching this film, it has made me feel that the Philippine state is relatively in a better condition than the Colombian state in terms of security. At the same time, it has made me aware of the need to improve government transparency and accountability in the Philippines. The Philippine government and we, the Filipinos, need to address issues of violence as immediately as possible to prevent them from getting any worse, so that we would not have to resort to putting a sign that says "no dumping of corpses," which, apparently, was shown in the film as being used in Colombia.

References:
http://www.revision-notes.co.uk/revision/994.html
Wikipedia. 2007. Colombia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colombia#Crimev
Wikipedia. 2007. Failed State. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Failed_state
Wikipedia. 2007. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_virgen_de_los_sicarios

buagñin said...

The film “Our Lady of the Assassins” is a comparison of the old Colombia and the present day Colombia. This is shown when the main protagonist, Fernando Vallejo, returns to his hometown in Colombia to die. He found out that her childhood place has been completely changed from a religious town to a drug capital of the world. Basically, the film has tried to convey to its audience how Colombia has changed negatively and how its people have been affected by these changes. Though the film shows a homosexual relationship between Fernando and Alexis, whom he met in a long time friend’s house; this has actually helped the film to literally describe the difference between the old and the new Colombia. It is evidently seen in the film that the main protagonists, Fernando and Alexis, are very different in terms of music, way of thinking, thoughts about death and the like. These differences are brought by the vices such as illegal drugs and other external factors which influence Colombian people especially the youth. The film tries to view the youth as violent who can easily shot or kill anyone he wishes to kill. It was too chaotic to think that these gangs composed of young people kill each other without minding their value in life. For them to live is to be able to protect yourself from any enemy. It has been normal for them to carry a gun at such a young age when it takes a complicated process for a normal person here in the Philippines to be able to own a gun. After viewing the film, I said to myself that I would never attempt to go to that place where everyone seems to be a suspect of murdering you. It sounds very absurd for me to think of Colombia in that way but the film affects me that much.

Moreover, the film also shows the irony of religiosity and animosity. Alexis seems to be a religious person in that he believes in the saints’ protection. On the other hand, he is also a gang member who gets into gun fights with the other gangs. It seems ironic that a Catholic town has lots of dumped dead bodies on their cliffs. It appears that a religious place has been transformed into an evil one. The film describes how the people easily sell illegal drugs right inside of the churches. When Fernando goes back to his country, he sees to it that he visits every church and childhood place he went into. He imparts his every past experience to his young lover Alexis while they visit every memorable place of Fernando. However, he is so surprised to see how much have changed in his peaceful hometown. He is aghast to see and die in a violent and unjust neighborhood he once lived in. I think this is one of the reasons why in the end he decided to leave his country and start a new life. It has been traumatic for him to witness that his young lover Alexis is shot to death. And he will not allow that his second young lover Wilmar will suffer the same bad experience.

In these situations, the film shows how the people lose their respect on their faith and their value for life. Fernando tries to change Alexis’s mindset but, on the contrary, he is the one who has been slowly adapting to the new culture. This is seen when he brainwashes a lady about the crime she has witnessed. In this, he hides the truth about the murder caused by his young lover, Alexis. Furthermore, almost all people in the town are in despair of their lives. The film illustrates the situation by showing poor people in ragged clothes, drug-users, young assassins involved in drug cartel, undisciplined taxi drivers and neighbors and many more. It really gives you burden to see what is actually happening inside. But I wonder whether these people are even aware of such despair they are into. To make the situation even worse, the government does not seem to be efficient in bringing change into the current situation. The people do not even trust their government so how will “positive change” be happening. The film shows that some do not even know who their president is. Fernando who happens to be a writer does not believe in the capacity of the government. Alexis, on the other hand, obeys Fernando’s thoughts as always, except about not killing people; so he shoots the TV with his gun to hypothetically kill the president. These are evident situations of hatred against the government.

In conclusion, the film presents a lot of problems in both the main characters and the people surrounding them. Basically, this film tries to inform or relates a person’s experience in the help to change the current situation of the people suffering from illegal activities. It describes the situation of the people and how their Catholic faith has actually evolved into something that is not in accordance with the “10 Commandments” which is “Thou shall not kill.” This makes me wonder why most of the Catholic countries are so much in poverty like the Philippines and other Latin American countries.

mvga said...

Be the change that you want to be—that is what Gandhi once said.
But as we saw in the movie, Our Lady of the Assassins, the main character, Fernando seemed to be somewhat trapped by the environment he is living. After travelling around the world, Fernando went back to his hometown of Medellin “to die”. When he got back he met this very young guy named Alexis. He and Alexis became an item as shown in the film. Fernando went to travel with Alexis to the places where Fernando spent his life in Colombia. They went to see the house where Fernando was born, the hacienda where he grew up, the diner where he and his grandparents went to, and other memorable places that reminded him of his childhood. While they were travelling, Fernando kept on complaining about the pitiful and despairing situation that Medellin has turned into.
Now, if Fernando believes in existentialism then he would have known that his actions pretty much determine his fate. And somehow, the movie showed that Fernando did carry the notion of existentialism in living his life. He did not believe in the existence of God and so it may be safe to say that his life is determined by his own will.
However, he seemed to be trapped by the structure he is in. Bringing about change in his community never occurred to him. He even complained about almost everything in his community. He complained about how Colombians do not follow rules, about how music has changed into mere noises, about how poor people kept on reproducing that result to exacerbation of poverty and a lot more. This ‘entrapment’ in his structure even mad him exclaim that the only way to live their lives in the present Colombia is to look, listen, and shut up. As if people cannot do anything more than just looking at how people get killed on the streets, listening to gunshots being fired to innocent victims of crimes and keeping their mouth shut when police comes to investigate.
As the movie progressed, I thought that somehow, in his little own way, Fernando would dare to contribute to change how Medellin has become. But he did not. He did not even tried to stop Alexis when Alexis killed the noisy drummer who lives across their apartment unit.
The two young men (Alexis and Wilmar), for me, symbolizes the chance or opportunity where Fernando could have contributed to change their town. These two young boys represent the youth who will become the future adults of their town, who would probably, someday become leaders of their town or even Colombia. But in both cases, Fernando failed to stop these young boys to stop being gang members. He could have told the young boys to live their lives differently. Although, I think that he tried to do it in Wilmar’s case but what he was trying to teach Wilmar is to run away from all his problems and I think that that would not contribute much to alleviate Medellin’s pitiful situation.
This film mad me realize, after watching it, that complaining and mere criticisms about government inadequacies or even about social injustice in our situation will not do much to help our government to fulfill their obligations or for social injustice to be lifted up. Change needs actions and it will not start unless I, myself, start to be the change that I want my society to be.
-Alegre

me_delas_alas said...

Philosopher and political thinker Thomas Hobbes explained it best when he said that without government, life would be nasty, brutish and short. Indeed, if a society exists without any mechanism to limit the distribution of rights and privileges and to redistribute power, then everyone will exploit his or her absolute freedom to the point that it may encroach upon other people’s rights. There would be disorder and chaos, and life at al would not be worth living. One dimension of this argument is the importance of adjudicating bodies to deliver one basic social and political need: the delivery of justice. In the film La Virgen de los Sicarios, one of the more revealing themes is the idea that there is seemingly a lack of justice in the society, and even though formal institutions are set up in order to facilitate an orderly and effective impartiality for the protection of human rights, such institutions may simply not be enough, for there are certainly other players in the game that apply their own rules for the attainment of their specific ends.

Evidently in the film, we can see that people easily get hold of their guns, point it to someone, pull its trigger and fire it to someone. Almost cliché, we can utter that these people are putting the law in their very own hands. But why is it that people resort to believing that justice is best served by the people who immediately needs them, and do not need to get through any form of adjudication just to get what is fitting for him?

In the context of the film, it is inevitable to realize that there is inequality in the distribution of basic rights, and consequently, the distribution of justice privileges. We do not need to delve deeper. The mere fact that Pablo Escobar, the leading tycoon of the cocaine business in Colombia, is being protected by his widespread industry and his massive wealth from illegal drugs trade says a lot about the prevailing performance of its justice system. Certainly, he is receiving more privileges in the face of justice than the people who to begin with, should share the same equal rights they both ought to receive. We see then one facet of political support in government institutions. If citizens believe that the systems which protects welfare and human rights are not functioning effectively and only serves the interest of a particular group in society, then citizens’ political support for the particular regime will more likely decline. This follows Mishler and Rose’s proposition that to assess and evaluate regimes, people must have a direct experience of that regime (2001). This will lead to radical moves, either to eliminate the government of the day or try and practice the function of the mechanism that they deem inefficient and unproductive. As evident in the film and in many cases empirically observed, being the law i.e. practicing the functions of the justice system, is the simplest response to the ineffectiveness of a government. If these formal institutions cannot carry out the protection of larger society, then who will? It is through this simple thinking that the quality of government conduct is indirectly put into question.

In a narrower context, the deliberate killings seen in the film for revenge and the idea that some higher being is behind their actions reinforces the legitimacy of their action in contrast to the state regulations. I believe that this is the reason behind the title of the film. If academics have St. John Baptist de la Salle and childless couples offer dances to Obando, then probably, even the assassins have someone whom they revere to at the end of the day. We see then the conflict between the sources of legitimacy of action. Because people have relatively disengaged with state rules, deviant action from these rules will be sanctioned. However, because there is self acknowledgment that a higher, more authoritative being is principally legitimizing their action, then deviant action will be considered valid and acceptable. They will not be jailed, for a more supreme entity supports them. Going back, this idea has reinforced the challenge to governments of effectively distributing welfare and justice policies ideally for the entire population. Returning to Hobbes, governments are formed because people have given part of their rights for the collective protection of the entire society. Ii is therefore the task of government to return these rights equally and equitably, without encroaching the rights and privileges in the process. As citizens, the rules of the state matters, and it should only generate the sources of legitimacy for its citizens’ actions. If people eventually find someone in which they acquire legitimacy for doing actions nonstandard from state rules i.e. putting the law within our capacities as civilian citizens, it is enough of a reason to say that something is wrong with that government, especially its capacity to bring justice and welfare to its citizenry.

abeleda said...

The Blamelessness of Youthful Nihilism

“Our Lady of the Assassins” deals with the blamelessness of the nihilistic tendencies of the youth that quite disturbs me.

Nihilism refers to the viewpoint that traditional values are unimportant and that existence is bereft of meaning and purpose. In 19th-century Russia, Nihilism was applied to a philosophy of skepticism that negated all forms of aestheticism and advocated utilitarianism and scientific rationalism. Discarding the social sciences, classical philosophical systems, and the established social order, nihilism negated all authority exercised by the state, the church, or the family and based its belief on nothing but scientific truth. This philosophy gradually became associated with political terror and deteriorated into a philosophy of violence.

In the film, the piece of weapon carried by the youth becomes a piece of their identity, which eventually corrupts a piece of their soul. The law of the jungle rules the law of the streets: it’s kill or be killed; or to be more apt, it’s shoot or be shot. Arguments are expressed through the barrel of a gun, and a wrong look could get you killed.

This film paints a harrowing and unforgiving portrait of lawless Colombia, suffering from the moral decay brought about by their most lucrative export business: cocaine and illegal drugs. Gangs ran unfettered in the city committing crimes ranging from petty crimes to murder and mayhem.

The law enforcers are conspicuously absent and there is a pervading sense of criminal impunity, bordering on improbability. We ask therefore, how can this society survive when lawlessness run amok? When drug lords such as Pablo Escobar hands down the law of the streets, where must people turn to? When hope is gone, can peace be found on the end of a live bullet?

Alas, this is what disturbs me, what disturbs us, in the film. A murder or homicide is shown one after another and no discernible amount of remorse can be gleaned from the youthful perpetrators. Worse, it seems to be a most natural occurrence, and the perpetrator seems to shrug the whole thing off, as natural as changing a t-shirt or hailing another taxicab.

This sense of desensitization to violence is mind-numbing. Nobody gets shocked anymore when somebody dies, least of all the young people. One of the most disturbing scenes for me is when Fernando Vallejo visits the family of Alexis and one of Alexis’ little brother casually tells the stranger that he is going to avenge his slain brother one day. That he is going to kill his brother’s killer, “the blue lagoon”. Such cold-hearted remark from the 'mouth of babes' is truly shocking.

We assess a movie through our own understanding of our own particular society. This movie, by introducing us to a dystopic society forces us to realize the importance of safeguarding a moral and just society. It forces us to realize the importance of keeping the criminals away from the corridors of power.

Moreover, it may not be quite apparent but the filmmaker loves the city of Medellin, loves the country Colombia. Near the beginning of the film, the writer, Vallejo, opens the curtains of his posh, yet unadorned apartment to look at the astonishing vista of the city. In the course of the film, a small part of the city, be it a church or a street, is introduced to us piece by piece like a jigsaw puzzle. In the end, however, when all hope was lost with another senseless death of a "loved one", Wilmar, Fernando decides to close the curtain. He doesn’t like the city anymore because it was not the city he knew. It's a subtle, yet no less powerful condemnation of a society gone to the dogs---or druglords.

mimah said...

The film is about a man named, Fernando, a writer who decided to return to his hometown, Medellin, after 30 years of absence. He is somewhat astounded as to how his hometown has transformed into a place where violence is the everyday scenario. To aid his adaptation to his hometown, he found Alexis, a young man with whom he had a gay relationship. He went back only to die. In his journey to death though he did not die in the film, the film revealed the plague of violence, lawlessness and unruly lives of the people. It could be said that when a state is not strong enough to exert power and control over its people, it could lead to a society of casual violence and lawlessness, thus, having a weak state.

The state is an institution that claims to have the monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. (Weber, quoted in Hague and Harrop, p. 7) But in the film, the people somewhat have their own share of the legitimate use of physical force. Legitimate in the sense that gunning down enemies is an everyday event such that some people see it as if someone just slaps somebody else’s face. This is true when Alexis gunned down the taxi driver and other youngsters like him on motorcycles, and when a man gunned down the owner of a car, who refused to surrender the keys. Their guns seem to be their way of putting law into their hands. They choose to bring justice to their problems by killing. They seem to be impatient and unruly enough not to trust the institutions of the government to solve disputes.

The state also does not have social control over the people. State social control is the “successful subordination of peoples’s own inclination of social behavior […] in favor of the behavior prescribed by state rules.” (Migdal 1988, p. 22) The people live their lives the way they wanted to. Yes, we all have the right to do so but we should not be depriving others of that right to by killing them. Also, living in a country, as good citizens, one should obey the laws made by the government. If these laws stayed only in paper, there is a perceived problem with the government. In the film, the young and the old are casually taking drugs or cocaine. It is as ordinary as drinking water in public. As said in the report, a man named Pablo Escobar, a drug lord, have this influence among the people. He got power and wealth generated from his extensive drug network perhaps not only in Colombia. It is said that he even got himself elected in public office. This goes to show that the state cannot exert control over the known drug lord. Weak as it is, the state is even used to further widen the drug industry by protecting Escobar’s business and propagating the use of drugs or cocaine. Social control has three indicators, namely, compliance, participation and legitimation. The second indicator needs not be discussed for it is not much evident in the film. Compliance makes a state strong if “the use of the most basic of sanctions, force” is implemented. Compliance is needed for people to obey, to follow the rules of the game set by the state. The police force in the film seems not to be strong enough to exert that compliance among the people. It is as if everybody is a police force. Then, legitimation, this is, I think, far more important factor the state should have. As defined, “it is an acceptance, even approbation, of the state’s rules of the game, its social control, as true and right.” (Migdal 1988, p. 33) Also, quoting Poggi from Migdal’s work, for a state to be strong, its citizens must “comply with its (state’s) authority not from the inertia of unreasoning routine or the utilitarian calculation of personal advantage, but from the conviction that compliance is right.” But then again, in the scene where Alexis fired the television while the president is giving a speech, it indicates the prevalent disrespect, distrust and perhaps indifference of the people towards the state. These feelings toward the state do not necessarily mean they are a strong society. Strong in the sense that the people are mobilized to influence the state’s ruling. They resorted to a more individualistic nature of living.

Given all these, I can say that the film is an effective medium of political socialization. After watching the film, I felt safer and luckier that I am a Filipino and I live in the Philippines. Yes, we may have our fair share of killings, gunned down victims, murders. We may criticize the government every now and then, condemned our leaders. We may have our own drug lords and herds of drug users. But I can say that we are far better than Colombia, that our state may not be strong, but less weak in a sense that at the end of the day, we still have that respect for the law or for the state. We still recognized that there is a higher authority above all of us and that living does not mean living individually but collectively.

Richard Henrick said...
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Richard Henrick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Richard Henrick said...

Man by nature is selfish. Most of the things that he does are something that is beneficial or satisfying for him. However, defining what is beneficial or satisfying is something that is always subjective. I may find satisfaction in writing papers for my Political Science classes but others may not. On the other hand, others may find satisfaction in doing cross stitches, which is something that I do not really like. It is common that a person will repeat doing something that gives him satisfaction to the point of it being a habit and later may turn to become an addiction. The feeling of being high whenever people take drugs or smoke satisfies them whenever they do it. Sometimes, a person even reaches the point of not even caring for the harm he may cause others just to satisfy himself. There is the presence of a very strong motivation that urges him to do that action that regardless of any impediment, he will still struggle to do it.

Laws are created and implemented in order to ensure that order is preserved within the society. Punishments are supposed to serve as threats for people from committing crimes and other things that are harmful for the society. For these threats to be effective and for people to remain compliant to the laws, there must be an effective governing body that ensures its proper implementation. Thus, institutions such as the police and the judiciary should be very efficient in capturing and according the right punishments to the law-breakers. Such efficiency is necessary in making the citizens more proactive in capturing the criminals. They will only report a certain crime or stand as a witness if they feel that there will be an assurance that justice will be accorded properly and that it will turn out to them having a better society in the future. However, if the institution is inefficient, citizens won’t bother wasting their time testifying because they know that it will lead to nothing. Given the fact that people don’t bother to report crimes anymore, this makes people more confident about violating the law and inflicting harm on other people.

In the movie, “Our Lady of the Assassins”, we could see how people are pushed to act in a certain manner in a society that has poorly implemented laws. On a society where the gang formations aren’t quelled, people kill each other because they want their gangs to be the one who is victorious at the end. People are pushed to kill another person because that person killed someone who is in part of the gang or is a family member. Wilmar killed Alexis because Alexis killed Wilmar’s brother. At the same breath, Fernando almost killed Wilmar in his sleep because he wants to revenge Alexis’s death. The apathy of the people, which is very apparent in the way they do not care about someone when he gets killed in the middle of the road, is also conditioned by their society. It maybe because people are fearful that they may be targeted if they do get involved or because they don’t believe that their involvement will lead to something novel in the end. The way gang people's minds are conditioned by their respective gangs made them bring that kind of attitude in their everyday dealings with other people. Holding a gun just becomes very easy for them for it is their tool of survival. Moreover, using it also just becomes an ordinary thing for them. Whenever they get frustrated with someone, they will pull the trigger of the gun without any hesitation because that is how they feel it with their real enemies. That may be the explanation why it was so easy for Wilmar to kill the punk who disturbs them at night with his drums aside from the fact that that act of killing has given him satisfaction based on his own standards.

The poor implementation of laws within the society makes the ordinary people agressive and defensive. On a society wherein crime is very prevalent, they face a security dilemma, which necessitates them to arm themselves so that they could easily defend themselves if they are faced with the threat. In the movie, this is shown by the fact that taxi drivers carry weapons for themselves. They do this in order to assure their survival. Their survival is assured on two ways. First, they could easily shoot someone who attempts to do something violent against him. But second, the mere fact that he is seen carrying a gun may make the person who is supposed to harm him think otherwise because of fear to lose: mutually- assured destruction. In international relations, realists argue that an anarchic global society is secured because sovereign states fear losing against another state’s military. They say that a balance of power exists. However, this is oftentimes contested because some states obviously have military capability that is more superior to any other country. Applying the same theory on the individual level, security is hard to attain on a society where everyone carries a gun. For one, not everyone could possess a gun. If there is no balance of power, the one who has a gun has no reason to fear the one who doesn’t have any arms to defend himself. Second, the motives of the people for using a gun may not necessarily be overridden by the fact that someone carries another gun. In fact, some may even be pushed to use their guns so they will be the one that will remain powerful for all those who has guns they have already killed.

On another note, lawlessness may also guarantee a higher level of individualism. Given that people learn to be apathetic and to not intrude to other people’s affairs because of fear to get shot, people have more leeway to assert their own identity because there is not much people watching their every move, judging their actions, and dictating their own norms. It could be argued that lawlessness gives people more freedom. This may explain why it was so easy for Fernando and Wilmar and Alexis to have their affairs despite it being the unconventional. This may also explain why even religions can’t control their own followers. As shown in the movie, the church becomes a place for selling prostitutes and other illicit acts such as gambling and an abode for beggars, which is very ironic to what it is supposed to serve.

At the end of the day, it is very apparent that laws and its proper implementation are important in shaping individual behaviour. One who is supposed to be pious may in the end be converted to be the most atheistic because of changes in the society brought about by the inefficiencies in maintaining order. We’ve seen that in the character of Fernando. He went back to Medellin because he wants it to be the place where he would die. Before he went there, we could see that he is a religious man. He even prayed with Wilmar in the church and even oriented him with the various patron saints. They even lifted their love for each other to Saint Anthony, lovers’ patron saint. However, with the turnout of events, his piousness was used not for the good anymore. They pray to Saint Jude to bless the bullets they use. Fernando even worships Satan in one scene in the movie. The society have changed Fernando a lot. If before he was praying to the patron saint of lovers, at the end of the movie, he was now paying to the Our Lady of the Assassins and seeks to help him in his evil acts. Lawlessness could even change one’s relationship with God.

Beltran

venus said...

It is human nature to seek for things that would offer them a sense of stability, of certainty, and of security. Thus, he created logic, science, and other outlets of rational thinking just so he could convince himself that he has some control over the things around him. But as knowledge increased, and up to now the writing of books apparently has no plan of ending, sorrow and despair conjured by uncertainty and hopelessness also became widespread. For nothing could be more debilitating and mortifying for a human being than to realize that events have already slipped from his fingers, and his future becoming more and more obscure as time goes by.

Hence, unexpected and contradictory phenomena such as death, fortune and misfortune, the cataclysm of nature, and the emergence of ultimate, timeless questions of life and purpose in general all contributed to the prevalence of philosophies, worldviews on the supernatural, and religions. As Milton Yinger in his book “Religion, Society, and the Individual: An Introduction to the Sociology of Religion” defined it, religion is “the cultural knowledge of the supernatural that people use to cope with the ultimate problems of human existence.” Most religions adopt the perspective that there is a material and a spiritual realm, and that since humans are not merely matter, they could also have access to the latter. Also, most religions have the aim of ethics and righteous living. Catholicism, as expressed by the film Our Lady of the Assassins, is one good example.

However, religion is now likened to the term of religiosity which is defined in terms of traditions, rituals, and symbolisms but has increasingly obtained a pejorative view. The film depicts the change in the Catholic church as an institution and as a central and predominant aspect of Latin American culture. The title itself suggests that the theme of the film is essentially Catholicism in the midst of the failing government and wrecked citizenry of Medellin, Colombia.

It can be grasped from the film that the significance of the Catholic church in the Colombian society as a prime mover towards peace and harmony is approaching extinction. More and more, the religion’s loose structure paves the way for its members to neglect its precepts, doctrines, and practices. Some claim to be Catholics yet go to church for a sense of self-righteousness or for the satisfaction of other self-imposed purposes.

Although conscience was clearly not at work among most of the characters in the film, in a more positive light, the people of Medellin never set religion aside completely. We could see how mechanical they were about it and how it was a deeply seated aspect of their identity and culture. I can cite two among the many illustrations in the movie that prove this argument. First was when Alexis was shown to be wearing a scapular, which he believes as a fetish or a lucky charm that preserves his life. Another was when Alexis and Fernando, kneeling beside each other in front of the altar, attributed the development of their relationship to a matron saint of matchmaking. As ironic it may seem, the only explanation I can think about is that some basic Catholic traditions have been profoundly embedded into the Colombian culture that these practices (e.g. going to church, praying to the saints, wearing charms and trinkets) can transcend even demoralization and succeeding generations within the Colombian society. Thus, it has been a possible and familiar practice to be religious in action but enjoy no spirituality. It is the mere head knowledge of a God but not a personal belief, trust, and faith in God himself.

The sign that read “No Dumping of Corpses” mounted in a cliff with a pile of lifeless bodies only emphasized that the state had fully lost control of its population and the church (i.e. the Catholic church) had lost grip of its membership. I agree with Apostle Paul when he said in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet’” (The Holy Bible: NIV Version, 1984). The more that a man feels restricted by legalistic demands the more he tends to get tempted to break the law. The way I see it, the state and the Catholic church were not insufficient with laws. They, in fact, had too many rules, enough to make the public feel like they were wearing moral straightjackets. They yearned for freedom, and the moment they had a taste of it, they indulged in it to the point of losing the sense of right or wrong.

alberto said...

Paradox is in itself ironic. It’s really so hard to see things clearly in a chaotic, paradoxical worldview, so might as well deconstruct it. The film Our Lady of the Assassins is surely worthy of giving credit in its offering on how to look at the world, in the absence of particular lenses which could be used in viewing it.

The film is a new flavor in relation to the previous films showcased in class in the sense that it is “the one without the many”. It is by far one film in the list which tackles everyday lives as according to one of its reporters, without the backdrop of various or numerous laws, customs, and rules being constantly imposed by society. Sure there were some points in previous discussions on films, particularly on Raise the Red Lantern in which the presence of too much rules and imposed customs could be very detrimental to the people working within that system and to the system itself. However, Our Lady of the Assassins have made all that seemingly lenient as compared to the “self-destructing” kind of society it portrayed.

Everything seems to be paradoxical in the absence of an authority that could impose laws. Everything seems to be so unlikely, so ironic. Fernando, one of the film’s main characters came back to die as according to him. However, he seemed to have found life instead in the company of young Alexis. Considering that their relationship is a homosexual one, it’s not really a big deal in the context of the film. Unlike in other films which something like that becomes central to the whole plot, in this film, it is certainly nothing as compared to the larger picture of chaos, and anarchy where the characters struggle for meaning, for a point of view. It is within this system of no clear rules and authority that the characters saw life’s greatest tricks. It was a place where people could be killed any moment, any time of the day, where a person indiscriminately shoots other people, but thinks twice on shooting a dog. It is where people build churches, and gun each other down in from of them. It is where people kill others and go directly to church after the committed crime. It is where government can’t make nor enforce laws, if there are such.

Certainly, nothing is impossible. Anybody could do anything to anyone. It could be the work of the various social elements’ interactions which merely perpetuates the setup as mentioned in the article above, or it could also be the value system of the people within these social elements, or the lack of it. Surely, too much rules could be a threat to social order, but the lack of it is far more dangerous. With that, it might be true that the interaction among various social elements, on a macro level is important ion the political socialization of its people, but s little perspective could then help these social elements, and on a micro level the people behind them, determine what they truly live for, what they want.

It sure was chaotic. After all, the title of the film itself denotes a puzzling paradox. Who would have thought of a saint for assassins? And it’s “our lady”, same as the Virgin Mary; how ironic.

-t.gandia-

alberto said...

I read somewhere that this film was supposed to rally the Colombians into trying to change the situation of the country. The film depicts the harsh reality of living in Colombia, where the successes of deliveries of drug cartel are celebrated by displays of fireworks, where prostitution is nothing new and definitely nothing to frowned upon, where underage boys sleep with men as old as their fathers, where being shot in the street is as common as seeing people riding bikes in Ferrara, Italy (like in the Garden of the Finzi-Continis).

The film talks about ironies. Like Fernando finding out that he has AIDS and going back to his hometown to find someone he could live for, Alexis. Alexis, who then dies at the hands of what is Fernando’s to be lover, who again dies. In the end, Fernando, having lost everything he has to live for, appears to have killed himself. He finds a reason to live, and then he loses it, over again , until he himself has lost the will to live.

Another irony depicted was the people’s misconception about religion. Fernando and Alexis have a habit of going to every church in the city yet they engage in what could be seen as “immoral acts”(for the religious fanatics anyway). Alexis talks about “holy bullets” that are actually doused with holy water and prayed over then aimed at someone’s heart. So what does this mean: that their act of killing actually has the approval if the saints they pray to? Plus killing isn’t even seen as a sin anymore. It has become a norm in their society. Survival of the fittest: the most basic of man’s instincts can be clearly seen in this movie. Fernando, who was so against the useless killing sprees that Alexis has been getting involved in does not hesitate to shoot the wounded dog they found in a river(?) while Alexis, who was so willing to take any human life at his will, was so hesitant at shooting the dog. They pray for the absolution of their sins, but what sins do they want to be forgiven for? Alexis continues to kill, even going so far as to pray for his bullets to find their mark. I think it shows the pointlessness of religion, as it is no longer seen as a giver of moral guidance, the church as something that sets moral standards, but a dispenser of approval, which the seeker automatically assumes is given.

At first I thought that this was just another “Brokeback Mountain”, another gay love story (sorry for the bluntness). Apparently I was wrong. It was about the tragedy that is Colombia today. The movie was so direct at pointing out what its producer, its director sees as what is wrong with Colombia to the point of being offensive. It shows its viewers what needs to be changed, not necessarily to criticize everything but to let them see in a different light, especially the citizens of Colombia what need to be changed in their society. It, however, offers no substantive solution. It’s like pointing out the disease but not giving out a cure.

The film could have been a significant factor of political mobilization, for the citizens of Colombia to change what has been criticized in the movie. But the bluntness of the portrayal of the country’s mistakes might have just offended them, or touched their hearts but left no lasting impression to make them want to change whatever is wrong with their society. If you’re going to point out directly what is wrong with a society, offer a feasible solution. Otherwise the effect is just lost on the people, on the viewers.

-v.alberto-

asama said...

Romance included only the boys. Violence included only the boys. I hardly saw a woman in the film. But the title is “Our LADY of the Assassins”. Aside from violence and existentialism, I think gender is another interesting angle to look at in the film.

The film “Our Lady of the Assassins” is dominated by male characters – Fernando, Alexis, and Wilmar. If there are other prominent characters in the story, they are all male. The few instances that I saw women in the film include: Fernando visits the mourning mother of Alexis and when the pregnant woman sees the dead guy and starts screaming. I do not even remember a woman being portrayed as violent in the film or being portrayed as the victim of violence. Stereotypes may play a role here. When we talk of violence, we usually think of men. It has been said (stereotyped) that women are less violent than men (Source: Violent Crime). Well of course that can be debunked by simple observation. In the film, they were simply portrayed as a mourning mother (implying love) and a concerned citizen, very soft-hearted characters indeed.

The film is totally masculine in nature. Even if Fernando, Alexis, and Wilmar are all involved in homosexual relationships, we still could see a sense of masculinity in them, although not to an extreme level since masculinity also requires responsibility and respect for others (source: Wikipedia) which they had, but only for themselves and their partners. But I do not think that the movie suggests a sense of inferiority to the female gender. I think the film is intentionally a “male movie” since no significant female character was present, and so criticisms to the film for being gender-biased should be set aside. It was even according to Fernando that his homosexual relationship is love between equals, and engaging into a relationship with a woman would be relationship with a different kind of species. Therefore the few women in the film could be considered as “people from another dimension.” They are intentionally not the focus of the film, so we can just forget about their roles. If the film is about Medellin and its assassins, then it is really hard to associate women with Medellin and even with the whole film.

But one thing that really intrigues me is that despite the lack of representation of women in the film, the very title of the film suggests a female subject. The title is highly relational to the religious(/catholic) aspect of the film, implying that even though assassins kill people, they still turn to the church for their “security”. This is such an irony since they turn to the church to help them accomplish something which is against the church teachings. They wear scapulars for shooting accuracy when they gun down people. They soak bullets in holy water for the same purpose. Alexis even claims to be saved from death by a sort of scapular. Again, as stereotyped by many, religion (both per se and its practice) is good. When you go to church every Sunday, you are good. When you pray the rosary, you are good. When you belong to a religion that believes in one God, you are good. Maybe this is why only a few do not belong to a religion. Well this issue is harder to prove than that of the “men as being more violent” issue because this is more of a normative matter and a philosophical discourse. And some of us would disagree with this, yet I think many still accepts the idea. I think women and religion are seen to be good things in the film, naturally good things. I think women and religion in the film provided a sort of balance to the film which is of violent theme. For instance, (religion:) we see a heavy shift of ambience from the violent streets of Medellin to the peaceful atmosphere inside the churches, (women:) nobody in Medellin really cares about the killings in the place, and it surprised me that the pregnant woman really cared about it. But after all, women are people from another dimension so it does not really matter if they appear as “nicer” people in the film.

In terms of politically socializing its audience, I think the film is very successful in this role. I said earlier that we usually think of men to be more violent than women. And I think this traditional belief will only be strengthened by watching the film. I think some will even interpret the film as a criticism of the male gender, portraying men as violent, worldly and extremely sexual, non-conformist, radical, and even bigoted (in my case, I did not interpret it as such). Generally, I think the film has a negative message, portraying the hopelessness of Medellin and the incurable violence in the place (or probably it suggests the incurability of the world). But the film is not about violence alone. Family is shown to be one of the most important institutions in the film. Seems like all characters in the film care about their families (except for Alexis, but his family cares so much about him). Masculinity suggests that “boys don’t cry” (source: Wikipedia), and I assume that Fernando is masculine enough, but Fernando cried when he heard a piece of music that reminded him of his family.

If we adhere to the saying that “every great man is a woman”, then maybe we can consider the Medellin assassins great. Maybe they did not have their mothers or girlfriends with them, but they had their Lady of the Assassins.

Refences:

Violent Crime: Gender Differences in Violent Crime Offenders. http://social.jrank.org/pages/1253/
Violent-Crime-Gender-Differences-in-Violent-Crime-Offenders.html. Accessed 09 September 2007.

Masculinity. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Masculinity#_ref-3. Accessed 09 September 2007.

dominic_barnachea said...

I do not know much about Columbia’s history, nor its present political and social situation. And I think it was in the film that it was my first encounter with Pablo Escobar, who’s supposed to be famous. But from most movies I have watched before, I already learned to equate Columbia with drugs and violence. I think in this film that concept was reinforced. And then some.

From the report about how the film was made I found out that it was an indie film. My concept of an independent film is one that is underfinanced and done by and amateur filmmaker. Hence this was my initial explanation for why the film looked like being shot by a cameraman using digital video cameras (because it doesn’t have the ‘grainy’ effect observed in mainstream films using the older type of cameras). This theory was further reinforced with some unorthodox camera angles – angles that I do not normally see being used in mainstream films. Plus I remember that in some scenes the camera was shaking that added some roughness to the film.

The absence of the grainy effect, the unusual camera angles and the roughness of the film reminded me of reality TV shows I watch sometimes where characters act naturally, free of any script whatsoever, with their surroundings natural and unmediated to fit the frame of the camera. The most important characteristic in this kind of shows is they are supposed to present real events wherein real people are acting on real situations.

However, as I reflect on that thought, I began to think that maybe those elements were present in the film not because it is underfinanced or not done well, but rather they were deliberate. I think these elements were intentionally done to highlight the ‘reality’ present in the film.

As I wrote above, my concept of present-day Columbia is one of drugs and violence. When I was young I even heard of an anecdote once that for every ten people that ride a bus there, nine are robbers. Also, from action films that I have seen, I always heard of Columbia being presented as an illegal drugs haven. In this film, those concepts were very much reinforced because it seemed to me that the political and social situation presented in the film is the real situation in Columbia at present. Meaning, the characters may be fictional. The plot may be fictional. But the indiscriminate murder is real. The drugs are real. The lip service of politicians is real.

And then I learned that Pablo Escobar’s childhood is somewhat parallel to that of two main characters in the story. This further strengthened my hypothesis of the film having some element of truth – which further confirmed my concept of what the real situation is Columbia is.

But, hey. At the end of the day, a fictional plot is a fictional plot. It may have real basis, but it is not necessarily real in itself. And where does the reality TV-like film techniques come in?

To me the social and political background of Columbia presented in the film is not similar to the real situation. Rather, the film’s social and political background is the real Columbian situation. The truth element I learned the film helped made me arrive at this generalization, but the reality-TV like film techniques are what made me believe even more. Using those film techniques made me believe that what I was seeing is actually the real Columbian situation. Using those techniques I was able to feel strongly that there Columbia is really drugs and violence. Is short, the reality TV-like techniques somewhat magnified the truth element already present in the film, hence further strengthening my previous concept of the real political and social situation of Columbia.

Uy said...

Our Lady has been Assassinated…
I mean our motherland, our nation…

The Colombian, particularly Mendellin, society has been trapped in violence, disorder and defiance caused by the circulation and use of ‘illegal’ drugs and by the wide spread poverty in the society. These defiant attitudes by the people, specifically the gang members and the illegal drug users, on the government and on the church values (such as ignoring and being pessimistic about government outlooks, murder and violence) have challenged the concept of state and nation building. It is believed that the state must have the ability to sustain political integration and political order in the system. However, in the film Our Lady of the Assassins, it portrayed that the state does not have capability to uphold the laws, sustain the norms and customs and apply power of the society. In this case, the society, without clear restrictions on its behavior, is uncontrollable in a sense that it acts as an adverse entity. As a result, without integration in the society, there is little hope for the continuity of the state.

According to Bloom, nation-building describes ‘the process whereby the inhabitants of a state’s territory come to be loyal citizens of that state’ (Bloom, 1990). Therefore, in nation-building, it is forming and establishing the state as a political entity, with the ability and vision of creating viable degrees of unity, adaptation, achievement and also the state must also implicitly build a sense of national identity among its people (Bloom, 1990). In this sense, coercive political power by the state is not enough to determine ‘loyal’ citizens; but according to Bloom, in order to endure a state, there must be a psychological nation that built.
This perception of the psychological nation built on the minds of every person establishes their commitment and unity to the state.

However, the identification of the people in Mendellin (generally shown in the film) have been tied and limited to drug warfare and gang violence. These groups have been mobilized to compete against the welfare of the nation-state. For them, they consider the state as a symbol of ‘their’ territory – a territory empowered by different societal ties. The institution of drug use and the societal force of the gangs have monopolized power wherein it bears their own ideology and belief – determining what is normal and good to fight for. With their force, they have cause fear and threat to the social system and this has resulted to the halting of the identification of other people to observe order, follow rules and regulations and respect humane norms and beliefs. Thus, this leads to nation-destruction.

But Our Lady holds on and keeps its promise…
Mother Mary prays for reconciliation and not for assassination… (Catholic Christian view)


References:
Bloom, W. (1990). Personal Identity, National Identity and International Relations. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

kat suyat said...

Shocking indeed it is.

Our Lady of the Assassins truly was a shocking and revealing film. It did not fail to give the viewers the sense of surprise that the title entails. When I first heard of the film and its title, what I had in mind was that we would be seeing a film about women whose jobs are to be assassins. But I guess I got it all wrong. The film was not about women (more so women assassins) but rather, it is a film about the drug cartel in Colombia and how these cartels use young boys in their transactions. The film focuses on the life of a gay writer, Fernando, who returns to his home country “to die”. As the film progresses, we saw how his life was affected by two young (homosexual?) guys who are also involved in the drug cartel business. I think the film was entitled as such to portray how ironic Colombia or life in this country could be. I view the title as an aphorism of the lives of the main characters, particularly of Alexis and Wilmar. It is ironic that they are assassins who kills people mercilessly yet they ask protection for the job that they do from Our Lady of the Virgin Mary, a religious entity and a part of the organization (the church) who totally opposes killings and assassinations. It is also ironic that a statue of the Virgin Mary stands in the middle of the plaza, the exact place where people ruthlessly and heartlessly kill other people. For me, it feels like what the director tried to show was how Our Lady of the Virgin Mary became incorporated to the assassins and how such a religious person became the “patron saint” of the assassins.

Now, on the main point of this entry, I would like to discuss political apathy or even apathy per se and how the film shows this concept and how it affects how people live their lives. As defined by Wikipedia, Apathy is a psychological term for a state of indifference — where an individual is unresponsive or "indifferent" to aspects of emotional, social, or physical life. It con be object specific, either toward a person, activity or environment. It is manifested by what we call as “learned helplessness”. I view this concept of apathy as very appropriate to the film Our lady of the Assassins for I think the concept encapsulates and explains to us why society in Colombia acts as such. In the film, we saw how easy it is for the assassins to kill and how easy it is for them to get away with it. We also saw how people seem to not care about seeing people getting killed in the streets, like as if it is something casual and just a part of their everyday lives. Colombians have learned to be apathetic of the political as well as social issues in their society. Why is this such the case? In my own opinion, I feel that the people have become apathetic for two reasons. One is that they have become accustomed to it already and they feel that they could do nothing about it. The soceond is that they have become hopeless that the government, who are the ones who should in the first place be passing and implementing laws so as to stop it, would actually do something about it and be able to solve it. Lawlessness and hopelessness succumed the very whole of Colombia. Guns, coccaine and money is all that matters. Laws exist but exist only in paper. We saw how the people no longer listen to the president, the very head of the state upon which they dwell upon. Hope is lost in the country where Catholicism used to reign upon. The film showed how Fernando easily told the people that he returned to Medellin to die- a sign for me of hopelessness to living in a world of such. Protection could be bought and money is really important. Guns are the symbol of life and without it, in a blink of an eye, you could be dead, just like what happened to Alexis as he and Fernando was walking in the streets.

Indeed, a very shocking film. But in my opinion, it is also a very realistic one.

odessawoods said...

Our Lady of the Assassins, Barbet Schroeder, Colombia, 2000
odessawoods

La Virgen de los Sicarios is the story of Fernando, a famed writer and author who only returned to Colombia to die. Here, he formed a relationship with Alexis, a 16-year-old hitman and member of a gang, and experienced how time has changed the culture and people of his hometown Medellin. This movie is about the despairs and fears and miseries of men in everyday lives, and their struggles to go on.
The film presents to the audience its point of view on how to release your angst and anger against the existing conditions of society through violence. The main characters had the power to question, and most of the time had the power to decide. First, the movie presented the "authorities", or the structures, in which the individual is confined to: religion, government, media, traditions, etc. The story then went on questioning these structures: Can religion save one's soul? Is government doing anything to alleviate poverty? Does media really present the voice of the people,because if you are not on tv, you do not exist and only the rich and famous are seen here? Even the role of the family was questioned--the only time a family was shown/mentioned was after Alexis' death. Does this imply that belonging to a big or a broken family will lead you nowhere? Here, the parents' role is seen as only producing more and more children to overpopulate the world. There was also a scene where Fernando mocked the Pope and the hero Simon Bolivar, who are considered great and powerful influences and in Colombia.
This film suggests that people may either choose to be confined within the structures and conditions or have it their own way. this portrays that tradition does not necessarily translate to what is 'right'. The fact that the two main characters had a homosexual relationship and that the kids were gang members and could easily carry weapons, or that Alexis 'killed' the president with his gun instead of listening to his speech, signify of norm and authority being questioned.
The ruler of the country had the authority but the people had the power. The irony also lies in here: as the title suggests, Our Lady is supposed to be addressed to the Virgin Mary, a spiritual and religious icon. Yet, the assassins or the hitmen are the main violators of the law and the Word, exactly the opposite of what religion (Catholicism) calls for.
I think, more then the carnage and the killing, the film is effective in socializing its audience because it tells the viewers to criticize what is being presented to them. Instead of merely receiving and following, the people can control/limit what they want to see or hear. Without analyzing, you would see this film as a bloodbath, violent, and that is exactly what the movie does not want you to do.
The movie presents that authority, structure and the existing conditions dictate reality. But what it suggests is that if that 'reality' is not good for you, why not or might as well create you own.
Just like what Fernando did, he left Colombia to escape his past; upon his return, he wanted to kil himself to escape his present, saying that this life has nothing good to offer--death was his resort, it was his reality. As for Pablo Escobar who was mentioned in the film, he himself was a streetkid, a thief, but instead of living forever in that misery, he created his own world. And in this world, he is rich, and powerful and government cannot do anything or imply on him what to do, he had his own definitions of what was right and what was wrong. Whether he resorted to selling illegal drugs, it did not matter because the money he made let him live. For Alexis, he knew he was in danger, so he kept a gun close at hand to protect him. He did not mind that it was illegal to use or bring a gun (at certain premises) as what was written in the law. His security was threatened and he had to find ways to reverse this, it was his reality, his life was at stake. After losing his gun, Alexis was shot to death. For me, it signifies that the moment you lose your touch and accept everything else, you let the problem eat you, you become voiceless and powerless. The power lies in questioning, being aware that there is a problem to solve, and not easily accepting what others say.

jeejee said...

In the 1980s, Pablo Escobar and other flamboyant cocaine cowboys, wielding billions of dollars and armies of hitmen, nearly brought the state to its knees. Their deaths ushered in more discreet groups, so-called baby cartels, that outsourced trafficking and murder to gangs. Given as the backdrop of the film Our Lady of the Assassins, the film focuses on the effects of society to the individual, in such a way that certain societal values and norms mold and shape the individual and are incorporated in the socialization process. “Values are defined as general beliefs and conceptions and existential or cognitive and affective judgments of people that have the most saturating and profound effects on the social order. Values are conceived of in two ways: (a) according to action oriented toward fundamental problems of life, such as that concerning the nature of man, his relations with the universe and the surrounding environment, (b) according to the goals and rules set by groups to define the legitimacy of the action, the ethos of society is determined by identifying its dominant values (Fals-Borda, 1969, 186).” Since the main characters – Fernando and Alexis – were both oriented in a society full of violence, it is inevitable that it would influence how they perceive things in their society. Even the notion of religion is already linked to the idea of violence. The film contains a number of seemingly oxymoronic juxtapositions of the sacred and the profane, beginning with its title—a reference to the church Fernando and Alexis visit on their first day together and on other occasions afterward. In another instance, Alexis describes to Fernando the ritual by which Medellín's gang members douse their bullets in holy water so they will fly straighter and kill more quickly. That these two men, as amoral and spiritually bankrupt as they appear, are drawn to religious symbolism is a reflection of that inner something in the human spirit that searches for something greater and more powerful than ourselves.

Values juxtapose norms in a society; norms are the many rules of behavior that are derived from values and that are applied in certain contexts, varying according to the degree of coercion and acceptance or according to the meaning of the value orientation (Parsons and Smelser 1956, 102). On the individual level, norms vary from simple practices to habits; on the group level, from customs to mores. Fernando and Alexis’ orientation to violence had its repercussions on each of their lives and to the lives of other individuals as far as the Colombian society is concerned.

Social organizations play an important role as well in the socialization process of the individuals in the society. “It reflects the formation of groups, institutions, status and roles as mechanisms that embody and translate values and norms into the practice of everyday life (Fals-Borda, 1969, 188).” Such is the significance of Pablo Escobar and his drug-dealing organization in the life of Alexis and other young boys like him in Colombia. They pattern their lifestyle as to how Pablo Escobar lived his life in the hopes of becoming like him. The cocaine lord’s influence somewhat institutionalized turf-war violence in Colombia. Upon his self-enforced social order, violence was imposed as the pre-dominant strategy for achieving the valued goals through accession to political power. The use of force and of circumstance at this moment transforms development into revolution.

Alongside social organizations is the existence of the community, which is “the unit in which culture is created, transmitted, or modified, the person is socialized, and the primary necessities of individuals are addressed (Fals-Borda, 1969, 188).” In Our Lady of the Assassins, the role of the community in shaping the identity of the characters was significant in a sense that it perpetuated the culture of violence that was enforced by the social order which resulted to apathy on the part of the individuals in the community.



References:

Fals - Borda, Orlando. Subversion and Social Change in Colombia. Columbia University Press. 1969.

roan chan said...

Our Lady of the Assassins

The strategy of using a more character-centered type of film makes the movie effective in its intentions of portraying a realm on the modern Columbia. Our Lady of the Assassins makes no pretense to being a film about the drug trade; actually, it does not give ample facts about Pablo Escobar who happens to be an icon in Columbia. It has more in common with meditations on death and how upsetting it is to live in a world you cannot understand why there is such a chaos. The Medellin of constant street violence is an arena that allows Schroeder and writer Fernando Vallejo to dramatize ideas. The filmmakers were free to explore the scenes rather than to explain why.

“Our Lady of the Assassins" is sometimes shocking, uses crude language, has quite a few sexual scenes and likely to be highly offensive to many viewers. Violence deeply infuse the whole movie that by the end everyone may get accustomed to it. Religion and other matters will make you think and reflect on a situation that may totally different to you.

While I appreciate that the film centers around homosexual relationships (those romantic conversationsof Alex and fernando) and the way I liked the portrayal of macho street thugs, I think the sexual scenes are irrelevant. The movie don’t even gave a hint of why Fernando would take up with a man so young and also how he would fall for another boy just because he’s so much similar to Alexis. Overall, the attitude of the characters reflected the general moral confusion of the city. As one reviewer says, “Love stares down the barrel of a gun”, this is like a new definition of love that has been presented in the film. Being a loving person did not mean you were a compassionate, life-affirming person.

When almost any action counts as domestic “violence,” our legal system is no longer
based on rule of law. It becomes an open invitation to persons who wish to manipulate
the system because of vindictiveness, greed, mental illness, or ideology. The rule of law is among the essential elements upon which high quality democracy rests. In the film, the government obviously is not accountable for this purpose of promoting democracy and order. It must the body responsible for ensuring political rights, civil liberties, and mechanisms of accountability which in turn affirm the political equality among citizens and constrain political abuses of state power. With what happen to Alexis and his family, as well as those street dwellers, the government failed to address those more important tasks of making a non crime-infested country.


The effectiveness of the legal system can be measure by how it actually brings a beneficial degree of order to social relations. In the film, there is no element that shows how the government react to the violence on the streets specially those enemy-stalking young gangsters killing each other any time of the day. For societies that are profoundly unequal, with poverty and all, just llike Medellin, these trends may reinforce the exclusion of many from the rule of law.

Felicia said...

The 2000 Colombian movie “Our Lady of the Assassins” (or “La Virgen de los Sicarios”, which is henceforth referred to in this essay as “Assassins”) captured a disturbing picture of the Colombian city, Medellin, from the eyes of a man who had come back home to join the madness of it all. Most viewers have, indeed, concluded that “Assassins” is a film about this man’s (as well as the Colombian people’s) indifference, learned helplessness, and basically despair. At a glimpse, which is often at the surface level only, any viewer would probably agree with this common immediate notion, which is understandable, since this is what the characters have manifestly expressed. However, this writer contends otherwise: in fact, she mainly asserts that this man, Fernando Vallejo, does not represent the resigned, nihilistic picture of a man; on the contrary, this writer believes that he is the picture of an individual who is most passionate, if not most hopeful. In addition, this writer even believes that Vallejo has exhibited the most emotions at several different portions in the movie. This main assertion’s focuses are Fernando Vallejo, the central character of “Assassins”. Further, this argument is to be discussed within the terms of the concept of 'anomie', as proposed by Emile Durkheim.
“Anomie” represents one of the many theories under the field of criminology and penology. Emile Durkheim used “anomie” to characterize a condition in individuals, in the form normlessness, or the absence of values, and an associated feeling of purposelessness. In Durkheim’s view, when significant changes occur within a surrounding society, it is in such an environment where anomie is said to be a common phenomenon. Such significant changes may have, for example, an economic or ideological nature, whether positive or negative. Society precipitates into the suicide of individuals. According to Durkheim, “traditional religions often provided the basis for the shared values which the anomic individual lacks. … An individual suffering from anomie would strive to attain the common goals of a specific society yet would not be able to reach these goals legitimately because of the structural limitations in society. As a result the individual would exhibit deviant behavior.” (Wikipedia)
Now, given the principles behind this theoretical concept, this writer moves on by discussing “Assassins” within these terms. More importantly, this writer saw it befitting to analyze “Assassins” in terms of the theory of anomie, since the social environment is categorically anarchical and lawless, thus openly allowing for the possibility of individual members to fall into a state of anomie. All individuals living within such anomie-inducing conditions could actually fall into such state, save Vallejo, leading us toward a significant component of this argument, that he is what an anomie-consumed person is not. In fact, supporting this view are instances from “Assassins” which are viewed at a different angle and will therefore be used as evidences, in the form of the prominent qualities and emotions he had portrayed as well as acted upon in the course of the movie, namely, mercy, love and hopefulness.

Primarily, although Vallejo was very often seen as an unfeeling person, he had shown such surprising mercy and compassion to the dog with the broken leg, which was stranded at the waterway, by shooting him, using Alexis’ gun. In this scene, we see Vallejo’s character being projected towards the dog, in which it had no other thing to wait for but death, and its leg was broken just as much as Vallejo’s hopes may have been when he returned to Medellin. More importantly, it can be noticed that he had shown even more compassion and determination to spare the dog of any more suffering and decided, painstakingly, to shoot then and there, than he had shown any other Colombian who had been mugged or shot cold-bloodedly in the middle of the street. This writer believes this scene could be interpreted to be a glimpse of Vallejo’s self-appointed intent or ‘purpose’, one which anomic people have lost at all: to spare those who do not deserve as much suffering as those human casual killers do.

However, later in “Assassins”, Vallejo is finally seen to be compassionate with a fellow human being when Alexis was finally killed at the third attempt of the opposing gang to eliminate him. He had never been seen to worry more about those young (maybe even innocent) men killed off the street and mourned for by their mothers, than he had been when Alexis, a notorious sharp-shooter, equally-cold-killer, prostitute, who would probably take longer inside a confession stall than all the worst juvenile delinquents put together would take. He had declared his love for Alexis by accepting him for who he was unconditionally, making him an ironically happy man (although shown implicitly) for at least a week, which is probably a very good enough achievement in Medellin; such love also almost turned him into another killer at Medellin, when he actually planned on killing Wilmar to avenge Alexis’ death. Such a drive for revenge felt by a benumbed man is unusual, and definitely renders him to be non-anomic, by virtue of such heated and sometimes even romantic, behavioral manifestations with Alexis.

And finally, Vallejo is believed by this writer to be one hopeful character, contrary to what most people think, which are in the lines of ‘hopeless,’ ‘resigned,’ and ‘desparate’. In fact, this writer asserts that he has come back home to Medellin to go back to a refuge wherein one hasn’t returned to in a while, and would like to be embraced with its waiting arms and never change at all. In other words, it was like he was back at his own room to look for his security blanket because the bullies from the other rooms drove him away and back to his comfortable, familiar and unchanging room. But unfortunately, it did change; therefore, he simply outwardly declared he came back home to die. However, he had said to come back home not only to die, but also to try to reaffirm to himself that Medellin still has a chance. Why else would he bother with a much more youthful partner who was also wanted by the police for committing a heinous crime or two? Youth usually represents a seemingly innocent and less corrupted soul of individuals, therefore Vallejo’s one last ray of hope. Otherwise, why else would he try to imbibe in Alexis the appreciation for classical music, and encourage him to read books and be educated? In other words, why would he bother pouring out his life onto Alexis in just a week? More importantly, why did he seem like he was saving him from Medellin itself? It was like Vallejo made the most out of his time with Alexis while he was still alive; as though he was expecting him to be killed, showing he was also realistic as well. Therefore, this depicts that Vallejo is non-anomic person, since he is not alienated to his surroundings at all, by actually being realistic with it, and yet still harboring such hopes within Alexis as though he would within the rest of his own fellowmen.

In closing, “Assassins” is indeed an effective medium for political socialization because it presents a multi-dimensional characeterization of one who was struggling to fill his empty apartment with meaningful things (as well as furniture), while trying to conjure a pipe dream of a country finally purged from all its excess baggage, crime, corpses, and other societal cancers.

katia said...

“Our Lady of the Assassins” starts as if it’s a gay flick but quickly expands its horizons. It is a shockingly honest representation of how elder males in today’s societies, especially those occupying social positions of wealth and power, treat the youth. The amorous relationship between a rich and well educated middle-age man and a young boy, who was forced, because the poverty of his mother to become not only a petty drug dealer but a paid assassin sucked into the drug gangs’ turf war, became Schroeder’s sad comment about the desperate destiny of the young ones in today’s world. Is Fernando, a writer who has returned with the intention to retire, to the place of his birth – Medellin (Columbia), in love with Alexis whom he met at a gay party and invited to live together in his spacious condo? Closeness to the youngster’s soul and body makes Fernando feel himself rejuvenated. And Alexis’ spontaneous intelligence made him feel consoled – he likes to share with his new friend stories about his life. But while watching the film we gradually notice that Fernando doesn’t make any effort to help Alexis to become liberated from his drug bosses and, may be, even move toward an educated and honest life. When they both go out of Fernando’s place the boy serves as his bodyguard and several times saved Fernando’s life - Medellin streets are full of not only nostalgic memories and seductions but real dangers.
Through the film Schroeder emphasizes two ways the elder males tend to use young people. First is using them as recruits for wars of profit or as laborers for pittance. Adult males with conservative sensibility use teenagers like this for centuries. But how men with liberal sensibility use youth? There is no socio-systemic sadism towards the young person in relationship between Fernando and Alexis, but instead there are elegantly indifferent narcissistic games. This manner of using youth doesn’t contradict sincere and kind feelings.
While the “conservative” use of the young is personified in the film by the Columbian drug mafia bosses, the essence of “liberal” use became clear when Alexis is killed by the rivaling gang, and this caused Fernando’s sincere suffering. He was able quickly find another boy of the same age as Alexis - Wilmar, who also grown in the slums and was connected with the drug lords, the only employer of teenagers in this area. Soon Wilmar was also killed by still another rivaling gang – by over-armed kids like himself and Alexis.
Criminal boys-victims passionately pray to the Virgin because of being “bad”, becoming assassins, living in the slums. They pray for an easy and painless death of those whom they are assigned to kill.
The level of realistic acting in the film is quite high, especially the performance by Anderson Ballesteros in the role of Alexis, who has grown since Schroeder’s film into a professional movie actor.
By Victor Enyutin

katia said...

“Our Lady of the Assassins” starts as if it’s a gay flick but quickly expands its horizons. It is a shockingly honest representation of how elder males in today’s societies, especially those occupying social positions of wealth and power, treat the youth. The amorous relationship between a rich and well educated middle-age man and a young boy, who was forced, because the poverty of his mother to become not only a petty drug dealer but a paid assassin sucked into the drug gangs’ turf war, became Schroeder’s sad comment about the desperate destiny of the young ones in today’s world. Is Fernando, a writer who has returned with the intention to retire, to the place of his birth – Medellin (Columbia), in love with Alexis whom he met at a gay party and invited to live together in his spacious condo? Closeness to the youngster’s soul and body makes Fernando feel himself rejuvenated. And Alexis’ spontaneous intelligence made him feel consoled – he likes to share with his new friend stories about his life. But while watching the film we gradually notice that Fernando doesn’t make any effort to help Alexis to become liberated from his drug bosses and, may be, even move toward an educated and honest life. When they both go out of Fernando’s place the boy serves as his bodyguard and several times saved Fernando’s life - Medellin streets are full of not only nostalgic memories and seductions but real dangers.
Through the film Schroeder emphasizes two ways the elder males tend to use young people. First is using them as recruits for wars of profit or as laborers for pittance. Adult males with conservative sensibility use teenagers like this for centuries. But how men with liberal sensibility use youth? There is no socio-systemic sadism towards the young person in relationship between Fernando and Alexis, but instead there are elegantly indifferent narcissistic games. This manner of using youth doesn’t contradict sincere and kind feelings.
While the “conservative” use of the young is personified in the film by the Columbian drug mafia bosses, the essence of “liberal” use became clear when Alexis is killed by the rivaling gang, and this caused Fernando’s sincere suffering. He was able quickly find another boy of the same age as Alexis - Wilmar, who also grown in the slums and was connected with the drug lords, the only employer of teenagers in this area. Soon Wilmar was also killed by still another rivaling gang – by over-armed kids like himself and Alexis.
Criminal boys-victims passionately pray to the Virgin because of being “bad”, becoming assassins, living in the slums. They pray for an easy and painless death of those whom they are assigned to kill.
The level of realistic acting in the film is quite high, especially the performance by Anderson Ballesteros in the role of Alexis, who has grown since Schroeder’s film into a professional movie actor.
By Victor Enyutin