Sample Undergraduate Film Essay
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Analysing Class and Sexuality in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mama también:
Mass media is considered to be a vital force in deriving social change. Within this context, many artists and filmmakers have used social issues in their movies. This essay aims to analyse Y tu mama también, a Mexican film released in 2001 and directed by Alfonso Cuarón, how this movie reflects class conflicts in Mexico. Furthermore, the essay also analyses how the main protagonists in the movies reflect the sexuality of Mexican men.
The analysis is based on analysing various elements in the movie and the actions and behaviors of the main characters to analyse class conflicts and sexuality in Mexican men. The essay begins with analyzing class conflicts by analysing the characters of the main protagonists, Tenoch and Julio, their behavior and actions, and then analyzes the same in terms of sexuality and identity in Mexican society. Like the sixties’ cinema, Y tu mama también A is a film that wants to provoke action, although it is softer and belongs to the mainstream. The essay ends with a brief conclusion.
Analysing Class Conflicts in Y tu mama también
In this section, this essay analyses class conflicts in the film. According to Baer et al. (2014), a very colloquial language full of purely Mexican jargon has been used in Y tu mama también by the scriptwriters Alfonso and Carlos Cuarón (the director and his brother). The protagonists’ names are chosen to reflect symbolic class differences and have great importance in each epoch of Mexican history and social classes. Kollath-Cattano et al. (2014) concluded that protagonists’ symbolic names and surnames are relevant to their social backgrounds and Mexican history, i.e., Luisa Corté’s 15th-century Spanish Conquest and Tenoch Iturbide in 19th-century independent elite, and Julio Zapata 20th century revolution.
On one level, Shaw (2016) is correct, but there is something more profound. Not only do the last names have importance, the names Tenoch and Hernán also carry a crucial symbolic load within the Mexican imaginary. Shaw also emphasizes the relevance of the names by arguing that these names reflect major fundamental elements in national and revolutionary mythology in modern Mexico. It is an analogy for the relationship among different classes.
Tenoch Iturbide and Julio Zapata, as argued by Anderson (2014), Tenoch belong to society’s hegemonic upper class, and his name represents a contradictory pseudo-nationalism. Julio belongs to the middle class, and his name personifies ordinary people. Thus, the importance of names here is that the surnames represent two periods of Mexican history and two very different social classes. This class difference was the cause of the most marked conflict in the film (Anderson, 2014).
The superimposed voice, which has the function of omniscient narrator, informs the viewer that Tenoch’s father, the secretary of state, would name him Hernán. But “infected” by an “attack of nationalism” gave him the name Tenoch- Also. Tenoch was born the same year that his father joined the ruling party (the PRI, although never explicitly stated) (Jacey, 2014). First, the name “Hernán” refers to the conqueror Hernán Cortés while Tenoch references the indigenous roots of Mexico to Tenochtitlan.
The election of Tenoch instead of Hernán emphasizes the hypocrisy of the ruling class and politicians and exemplifies the founding mythology of the country. This hypocritical behavior is exemplified in various situations, one of which is that being Indian, the maid of the family is mistreated by family members and without any respect for their person (Smith, 2014):
The scene when Tenoch is lounging on the sofa next to the ringing telephone but does not attempt to answer it and waits for his “nanny,” who is bringing him a sandwich to attend, gives dramatizing effect to the status of Iturbide’s and stresses their hypocrisy. But Tenoch, named with a Mexica Indian name, attempts to exploit a woman, who calls him “Nene” out of affection (Smith, 2014). The film clearly shows that the Indians are still much marginalized in Mexico, although the ruling class professes to pride themselves in their Indian roots and Aztec past. According to Acevedo-Muñoz (2004),
The last name Iturbide is also significant. It is a classic BasqueSpanish name, and Basque nationalism claims a high degree of ethnic purity. Also, in the struggle for independence, Iturbide was a creole and general realist who became Augustine I (Sparling, 2014).
The other protagonist, Julio Zapata, belongs to the middle/lower class and his name represents his social position. According to Lie (2017), the working-class boy’s name is “Julio Zapata,” bringing up a necessary association with the name of Revolutionary hero (and national icon) Emiliano Zapata. A folk hero to many, Zapata fought for land reform in the first decade of the revolution, following the new government’s initial reluctance to effect true social changes in that area. The current pro-land reform Indian movement in the southern state of Chiapas calls itself “Zapatista” in honor of the peasant and working-class leader (Baer and Long, 2004).
Julio’s sister is an activist and uses the car they share to bring supplies to Chiapas (which contrasts with Julio’s car, he wants the car to seduce a woman). Through the film, the camera and the narrator reinforce the social differences between Julio and Tenoch (Oropesa, 2008). For example, the camera explores the large and luxurious home of Tenoch in the scene where he is lying on the couch waiting for sandwiches from his maid. Immediately after, Tenoch calls Julio, and the camera explores/contrasts the humble apartment Julio shares with his mother and his sister.
Hind (2004) argued that although these details do not seem essential with the basic plot. In contrast to superficiality, they indicate the mediating role of class differences in the friendship between Julio and Tenoch. Although these differences are never discussed, it is very obvious that they exist as the distinction of classes in Mexican society.
It can be concluded that the conflict between July and Tenoch is primarily a conflict around class differences. If both represent two Mexican social classes and struggle to exercise their power over the other, their relationship symbolizes the struggle of the classes in contemporary Mexican society (Linhard, 2009). Although they seem to be good friends, in the end, it shows that their friendship was never as strong or as faithful as it appeared, and they stop being friends.
Though they share all their experiences and anecdotes, this competition is always present to demonstrate who is better than the other. Besides, both break the “Manifesto” Charolastras-which they intend to follow religiously-when each has sex with the other’s girlfriend (Saldaha-Portillo, 2004). In an interview, Cuarón affirms that the break between them was not the homosexual act they shared nor their competition for Luisa but the class conflict between them.
This conflict and rupture go against the mythology of the revolution and its supposed success. Thus this study agrees with Acevedo-Muñoz (2004), who concluded that the conflict at the heart of the film reflects the tensions and differences in Mexican society classes. The theme of this film reflects the dream of the Mexican Revolution.
The surname of Luisa, the Spanish, is Cortés-another reference to the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés. The use of such a surname for a woman is exceptionally provocative. Kearns explains that by having two Mexican men sexually exploit a Spanish woman, it can be argued that this film attempts to ‘reverse’ the trauma of Conquest by exchanging the nationalities of the two parties involved in the primal scene. Such an explanation, although useful, is too simplistic.
Through Luisa’s representation, Y tu mama también seeks to subvert this feminine vision and thus also seeks to redefine national identity. This female character calls for the need to re-enroll women’s narrative agency and responsibility and has proposed new ways of approaching national identity in the times of globalization and postmodern narratives. Then, the film responds to Mexican cinema’s tradition and the political/economic situation in Mexico today (Shaw, 2016).
Analysing Sexuality in Y tu mama también
According to Anderson (2014), the presence of masculinity in the film and how this is associated with power, sex, and desire is reflected by the fact that Cuarón’s film starts by focusing unremittingly on men’s psychology in Mexico. The film suggests that sex is very intriguing for men and shows men’s power over other individuals.
The macho is he who exercises power, and sex is a form of power. Jacey (2014) adds that the apparent philosophical concern of Julio and Tenoch is sex, sticking to it to a manifesto that both have invented to reaffirm their masculinity and engage in a struggle for power via the phallic element. Luisa recognizes this relationship/competition between Julio and Tenoch. That is, she knows that they have no genuine interest in her but in affirming her power.
It manifests itself when Julio and Tenoch are fighting, and Luisa leaves the car angry. She screams that they are like dogs marking their territory and that they would like to have sex with one another. Sparling (2014) analyse Luisa’s reaction as Luisa sees underlying truth and signals that the boys violated their code (the “Charolastra” manifesto), and they want to have sex with each other. It reflects that the boys are failing to hide homoerotic desires and portraying machista façade. It reflects homophobia in them.
So, sex is not an act of love or desire but a manifestation of power. This association of sex and power implies violation-which bears a resemblance to the idea of the male and “hija de la chingada [roughly translated as son of the shit].” Besides, macho-ism is revealed as a facade, a farce, that has no foundation in reality, or, in other words, it is a social construction. In this way, Cuarón criticizes the macho system to offer an alternative and a more “fluid” identity. However, the film also shows the reality-Tenoch and Julio reject any alternative, and conformity triumphs (Baer and Long, 2004).
Another aspect of the society that Cuarón exposes and criticizes is society’s division into classes and the conflict between these classes. It indirectly signals the failure of the Mexican Revolution to create a classless society. This conflict is also based on the verb “chingar” (Hind, 2004). According to Saldaha-Portillo, (2004), for Mexicans, life is a power struggle; either you are powerful or subverted (either you have sex or others have sex with you).
If you are a subvert, it is a symbol of humiliation and punishment. It reflects that social life is a constant struggle or combat, reflecting Mexican society’s strong and weak division. As has already been shown, Tenoch and Julio represent Mexico’s social/economic/political classes. The constant competition between them symbolizes the competition for power between the upper class and Mexico’s middle / lower class. Although the most profound conflict seems to be Luisa’s fight for sexual favors, it is not.
They pass the whole film in conflict / competition-from the first scene of the race in the pool. When their verbal fight reaches the climax, both resort to attacking each other’s sexuality and social status (Oropesa, 2008):
“When both Julio and Tenoch are at their angriest, expressing unbridled, unrepressed feelings, they resort to insults of both class and homophobic content. Amidst calls of “fucking faggot,” etc., Tenoch calls Julio “pinche nacote” and “arribista,” which translates roughly as “commoner” and “social climber” and Julio replies “pirrurri de mierda” or “shitty petty bourgeois.” (Acevedo-Muñoz, 2004, p.46)
The social differences are reinforced at the end of the film: Julio and Tenoch stop being friends, and Julio wants to pay when they are in a cafeteria. He wants to pay even though Tenoch is richer, showing that the competition between them (the classes) continues. His silent return from the trip and his rejection of the trip’s experiences demonstrate the regrettable fact that this conflict exists today and is inevitable (Lie, 2017).
The film comments and criticizes contemporary Mexican society and exposes the impossibility of escaping cultural baggage. Smith (2014) argued that the intersection of class and identity in the film shows the conflict in class and sexuality and is consolidated by reaffirming inequality, sexual masking, and social alienation.
Both Tenoch and Julio are of European descent. However, the voiceover narrator draws attention to marginalized groups-towards the poor and the indigenous. Jacey (2014) concluded that the voiceover narration presents snap-shots of various class differences in Mexico and struggles of races that exist and co-exist in rural and urban areas in Mexico.
The film suggests a broader vision of the Mexican nation and society, different from what viewers may expect from mainstream cinema. Although Julio, Tenoch, and, to a lesser degree, Luisa are more or less unconscious and ignorant about their surroundings and the people around them, the narrator does not allow the viewer to do the same (Baer, et al., 2014).
Each time the superimposed voice adds a story or information that the characters do not know, all the diegetic sound is silenced, and the viewer only hears this voice. This disruption of the main plot of the film emphasizes the importance of what the narrator says. This technique provides a more inclusive vision of the nation-it includes typically marginalized and forgotten groups (Baer and Long, 2004).
This technique also underlines the fact that the “truths” or realities of Julio and Tenoch are incomplete; the superimposed voice points out other truths and other realities. It should still be noted that the film does not give voice to the marginalized because the narrator always speaks for them-it only points to their existence (Linhard, 2009).
Therefore, it can be affirmed that Y tu mama también takes a paternalistic position towards marginalized groups. As already stated, Y tu mama también not only deconstructs the hegemonic identity of Mexico but the Hollywood definition of the Mexican. Laderman discusses the representation of Mexico common in American road movies (Kollath-Cattano et al., 2018):
Other road movies that make Mexico a fetish include Easy Rider (1969), Lost in America (1985), and Thelma and Louise (1991). Cuarón’s film subverts this simplistic and idealistic representation and aims to teach a more complex and authentic vision. Cuarón shows the problems, complexities, and multiple realities present in the country. He also comments on the political/economic situation. American road movies represent Mexico as a fantasy, an escape, and use this “escape” to contrast it and criticize the American culture (Anderson, 2014).
Mexico is considered to be a fetishized fantasy that is represented in American road movies. Sparling (2014) emphasized this fact by highlighting that critiques of white suburban culture largely by opposing the latter to the fantasized, eroticized “authenticity” of people of color.
On the other hand, Y tu mama también represents a vindication of the “good savage” image -shows that there are many facets of Mexico and tries to correct the false or incomplete vision that Hollywood has transmitted. As we have already seen, Central do Brasil and Y tu mama también explore the issues of identity and the nation (Oropesa, 2008). They also dialogue with their respective countries’ historical cinema and offer a utopian vision of the nation. The difference is that the utopian vision is destroyed in Y tu mama también (Jacey, 2014).
The discussion above indicates that Y tu mama también represents class differences and sexuality in Mexican men through the characters, actions, and behaviours of the main protagonists. The directors carefully present the language, script, events, and other aspects to reflect societal issues. The name of the beach “invented” by Julio and Tenoch is “Boca de cielo,” It exists, but its existence is problematic. This name is not by chance.
The superimposed voice informs us that next year, the beach will be sold for the tourist industry. This contrast between the urban and the rural is also analogous to Central do Brasil. Once again, we see the complex and problematic vision of the nation that Cuarón wants to show. In the words of Cuarón, this study concludes that it is a film about Mexico, and it tried to show the diversity and complexity of the country as well as provoke thought and action.
Acevedo-Muñoz, E.R., 2004. Sex, Class, and Mexico in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también. Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies, 34(1), pp.39-48.
Anderson, J., 2014. THE POLITICS OF MELANCHOLY IN ALFONSO CUARÓN’SY TU MAMÁ TAMBIÉN, CHILDREN OF MEN AND THE POSSIBILITY OF HOPE.
Baer, H. and Long, R.F., 2004. Transnational Cinema and the Mexican State in Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también. South Central Review, 21(3), pp.150-168.
Baer, H., Long, R.F., Cinema, T. and Bailey, B.L., 2014. Acevedo-Muñoz, Ernesto R.“Sex, Class, and Mexico in Alfonso Cuarón’s Ytu mamá también.” Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal ofFilm and Television 34.1 (2004): 39–48.
Hind, E., 2004. Provincia in recent Mexican cinema, 1989-2004. Discourse, 26(1), pp.26-45.
Jacey, H., 2014. And the Screenwriter Created Man: Male Characterisation in Bromance and Bromedy. In Screenwriters and Screenwriting (pp. 238-255). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Kearns, S., A Road Less Travelled The Emergence of a Latin American Road Movie Genre.
Kollath-Cattano, C.L., Mann, E.S., Zegbe, E.M., and Thrasher, J.F., 2018. Sexual Scripts in Contemporary Mexican Cinema: A Quantitative Content Analysis. Sexuality & culture, 22(1), pp.90-105.
Lie, N., 2017. The Latin American (Counter-) Road Movie and Ambivalent Modernity. Springer.
Linhard, T.A., 2009. Unheard confessions and transatlantic connections: Y tu mam tambin and Nadie hablar de nosotras cuando hayamos muerto. Studies in Hispanic Cinemas (new title: Studies in Spanish & Latin American Cinemas), 5(1-2), pp.43-56.
Oropesa, S.A., 2008. Proxemics, Homogenization, and Diversity in Mexico’s Road Movies: Por la libre (2000), Sin dejar huella (2000), and Y tu mamá también (2001).
Saldaha-Portillo, M.J., 2004. In the Shadow of NAFTA: Y tu mama tambien Revisits the National Allegory of Mexican Sovereignty.
Shaw, D., 2016. THE MEXICAN ROMANTIC SEX COMEDY. Middlebrow Cinema, p.107.
Smith, P.J., 2014. Mexican screen fiction: Between cinema and television. John Wiley & Sons.
Sparling, N.L., 2014. Without a viable future: figuring the mother in Alfonso Cuaron’s children of men. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 35(1), pp.160-180.