The Untamed Review (2016): Homophobia And Repression In A Catholic Country

Director Amat Escalante asks: “how dangerous is repression?" Escalante uses an unnamed alien lifeform to help answer this question.

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Alejanda and Miguel meeting the Alien

The Untamed Review

CW: Mentions of Homophobic Violence

If we think about the most famous Mexicans in the arts and culture industry, Frida Kahlo is among the top without a doubt. Her art and ideology have influenced and reached all around the Americas and the world. She was involved in the Mexicayotl movement, separating her identity from European colonizers’ conception of identity and establishing her famous unibrow as a symbol to fight the Eurocentric beliefs of beauty. Frida Kahlo did what she wanted, how she wanted. 

When it came to her romances, she was the same. Her relationships weren’t just heterosexual. There are claims that Kahlo was intimate with Leon Trotsky (the Russian artist politician), Josephine Baker (the French American entertainer), Chavela Vargas (the Latin singer), Georgia O’ Keefe (the American artist), and Isamu Noguchi (the Japanese American artist). Frida Kahlo’s whole existence is as political as Audre Lorde’s quote:

“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” 

Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde is another openly lesbian Black activist and prolific writer in America during the 1950s. Her existence alone was a threat to the society of that decade and even now. And just like Lorde, Kahlo centered being and taking care of yourself no matter what society had to say. No suppression or repressed identity.

The fact that she was openly bisexual is a huge statement considering the period (the early 1900s to the 1950s) and her location, Mexico. This religious country has had a problematic history with the LGBTQ community. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that some form of LGBTQ representation emerged. 

But the truth of the matter is that throughout Mexican history, homophobia inside the machismo mentality has grown so aggressively that hate crimes have been committed fairly consistently.  At one point Mexico came in second place for the highest count of murders due to homophobia. The Untamed is based on one of these murders.

Click here to read more about the troubled LGBTQ history in Mexico: The Yucatan Times

There’s no need to get into the details of the hate crime committed. It’s both vile and despicable. Director Amat Escalante was appalled by this atrocity, but what happened afterward is what caught him by surprise. Once the body of the murdered gay man was found and put on display in the local newspaper, the wording used on the front page was just as bad as the act. The newspaper’s decision to use a derogatory term for the whole world to see is what he considers the seed of the theme behind his film The Untamed.

The Untamed Review
The Untamed (2016)

In the screenwriting world, we’re told the first 10 pages, which is roughly the first 10 minutes of the final product, are the most important in a screenplay.  It sets up the world, the protagonist, and according to the Final Draft blog; it sets up the central dramatic question that is at the heart of your story. You can click here for the full article on the secret of the first ten pages.

Now if we take a look at the first 10 minutes of The Untamed, Amat Escalante asks this: “how dangerous is repression?” Escalante uses an unnamed alien lifeform to help answer this question as this extraterrestrial being can either reward you with the ultimate sensation of pleasure or punish you with pain and death.

RELATED: Alien (1979): The Xenomorph’s Design Is Littered With Sexual Symbols In Mind

After the ominous title drop, we focus on the face of Veronica, played by Simone Bucio, as she lays against a pillar in a dingy shed. She’s in mid-climax then post-orgasm. Instead of being in a state of ultimate pleasure, which the Alien is supposed to produce, her face looks emotionally beaten, kind of like the initial drop of instantly coming down from a high. And she walks into foggy dry scenery, which parallels her cloudy mind.

We then move on to married couple Alejandra and Angel, played by Ruth Ramos and Jesus Meza, respectively. Throughout the film, we see how two different people deal with repression.

We start by focusing on Alejandra’s face during the entirety of the scene. She’s woken up to Angel initiating sex. No communication is passed between them. Angel comes in, gets what he wants, and continues sleeping. Alejandra’s unsatisfactory face says it all. She goes to the shower to try to finish off what Angel started only to be interrupted by her kids needing her assistance. For the second time, she’s left unsatisfied. Escalante begins to set up the central dramatic question by having his characters endure a less than enjoyable experience. 

By the end of the first act, we see our characters’ dynamics as well as the introduction to Alejandra’s brother named Fabian, played by Eden Villavicencio, who was left, naked and mistaken for dead. This is the scene that Escalate calls the seed of his film. And that’s because this moment is the catalyst for Angel’s character arc and theme of the story. 

The Untamed Review 2016
The Untamed (2016)

Before continuing I want to briefly talk about Angel and how his mentality is the most tragic part of The Untamed. Angel is a broken character because he is repressing his sexuality and true identity which leads to self-loathing. The two times we see him in a sexual act are first, the both literally and figuratively one-sided sex with his wife, and second, the time when he has sex with Alejandra’s brother, Fabian.

It is during this second instance that Escalante focuses on the couple’s face, showing that Angel is satisfied. His face is full of joy and contentment; he’s finally able to release his inner self. But as soon as he walks out of those closed doors, he reverts to his machismo front. He makes homophobic sayings and jokes like, “his gayness might rub off on the kids,” “I don’t talk to people like him,” and even texting Fabian “f*ggot” when he doesn’t return Angel’s calls.

These are examples of Angel not only taking shots at Fabian but at himself as well. His self-loathing continues as he gets into these fights with other alpha male types and Alejandra. Eventually, Angel is arrested and taken in for questioning, where Alejandra, because of jealously or simply just resentment, testifies against Angel. He’s framed for the beaten and eventual death of Fabian. Because of this, he is nonexistent for the second act.

The Frown From Jesus to Catholicism

The Untamed Review 2016
The Untamed (2016)

Before proceeding to the final act of the film, I want to briefly cover Alejandra’s arc as well as what Amat Escalante shines a light on during the film’s second act. In the first act, we witness how Angel’s sexual repression leads to him hurting himself through his words and how his judgment is formed through the society around him. In the second we witness how a religious country handles the subject matter of homosexuality. 

In multiple interviews, Escalante mentions how Mexico is a religious state. They have the power of the church behind the government officials. He goes on to mention how the state where he lives, Guanajuato, is an even more religious state. Its rural ambiance adds to its more traditional values compared to its liberal capital, Mexico City, which is referred to as “De F.” by name. Mexico City is a few steps forward when it comes to LGBTQ rights, ideals, and architecture. 

Escalante does a great job showing us the minds of traditional folk in Guanajuato in just a few lines and shots. On multiple occasions, we hear one of Angel’s and Alejandra’s children ask Alejandra, “What did my Uncle do to make God punish him?” This is the doing of Angel’s mother because following one of these questions, the child then adds, “Grandma said it was true.” 

It’s safe to assume Fabian was outspoken about his sexuality and in turn, not everyone was in favor of him. Remember, this story is set in a highly Catholic area. In multiple shots, we see the crucifix in plain view. It’s hanging on the walls of everyone’s house.

During the second act, we see Alejandra come to terms with the betrayal from both her husband and brother. She accomplishes this with the help of Veronica, who shows Alejandra the alien and what it can do. Although reluctant at first, Alejandra eventually gives up all restraint, just like Veronica and Fabian did. Up until this point, we’ve seen Alejandra boxed in by her surroundings. The majority of the camera shots involve her within her household which creates a sense of claustrophobia. This could be paralleling how she feels about her current situation; closed in and trapped.

“It makes me feel so good that it wipes out any resentment and hate.”

Alejandra, The Untamed

This is Alejandra’s response to the Alien. We then see her slowly putting her life together with a quick shot of her painting the walls of her house. That is, she starts putting her life back together until the third and final act, when Angel is released from prison.

Acceptance Through Pain or Pleasure

Alejanda and Miguel meeting the Alien
The Untamed (2016)

Angel, now having no home or family of his own, gets picked up by his parents. Only they don’t greet him with hugs and kisses; instead, he’s met with the same ferocity against homosexuality that Angel faced at the beginning of the film. His parents’ tone is filled with disdain as they call him an embarrassment. Angel is then met with a punch to the face from his dad and a half hug as Angel breaks down. Thoughts of suicide emerge, but he can’t act upon it. Not yet.

The climax of the film doesn’t last too long, but the argument ensuing between Alejandra and Angel could have felt like an eternity to them. Alejandra wants out of the relationship while Angel wants in. His abusive tendencies sprout once again. Angel’s anger against the world and, more importantly, against himself emerges as the domestic abuse continues. Luckily for Alejandra, Angel accidentally shoots his leg as he tries to point a gun at his wife. 

Knowing that this is her one and only shot at freedom, Alejandra drives to the Alien to end everything once and for all. Angel, unable to move on his own, gets dragged by Alejandra in front of the Alien. The creature chooses pleasure or pain as a consequence for each of their repressions. Angel is given pain and death as he didn’t want to accept himself even after getting caught. Alejandra is rewarded with pleasure as she fully gave in. They both get set free in their own ways. 

This is Escalante’s final statement in the film. The answer to his central dramatic question: how dangerous is repression? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t black and white. Rather, it is the muddled grey in between the two colors, like in the scenery where Veronica treads after the first encounter. This cloudy depiction shows that repression can be shifted by outside forces like religion, family, and politics. But if we’re not careful, this repression can lead to violence against others and against yourself. 

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