HELP US KEEP REPORTING. DONATE TO ORLANDO WEEKLY PRESS CLUB.

Embrace of the Serpent challenges Western ideals – like the impulse to protect indigenous peoples 

Union of the snake

Decades apart, two white scientists delve into the Amazonian rainforest in search of a rare plant with medicinal and hallucinatory qualities, with the assistance of a local shaman on opposite ends of his own life journey. Embrace of the Serpent attempts to frame the destruction of the rainforest's ecology and peoples as a slow-motion tragedy on scales both personal and cultural, but it is more intriguing in its ambitions, which frustrate it, than in its successes, which are limited.

Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra and his cinematographer, David Gallego, shoot in black-and-white, which is at once visually distinctive but also rather flattening, as if we are not meant to see the beautiful landscape in its full glory ... and maybe we aren't, in the hopes (perhaps) that we will focus on the tribal cultures being destroyed by invading Europeans and Americans. But those cultures are only glimpsed sideways, via shaman Karamakate (played as a young man by Nilbio Torres, and as an old man by Antonio Bolivar), the last of his tribe, as he reluctantly guides German ethnologist Theo (Jan Bijvoet), in the early 1900s, and American botanist Evan (Brionne Davis), in the 1940s, on what become tours of cultural ruination.

There are moments that are briskly challenging to Western ideals – including the impulse on the part of some to protect indigenous peoples, who may not necessarily want protection from everything the larger world has to offer – and other moments that descend into abject silliness. (One 1940s scene set in a Christian mission that has descended into "the worse of both worlds" is more like Green Inferno-esque schlock horror than the would-be mind-trip of the rest of the film.) It's true that this was inspired by the real-life travel and exploration diaries of Theodor Koch-Grunberg, a German, and Richard Evans Schultes, an American, but this does keep Serpent's perspective rather distant from the very people it is meant to be enlightening us about.

3 out of 5 stars

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at feedback@orlandoweekly.com.

Orlando Weekly works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Central Florida.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Orlando’s true free press free.

Newsletters

Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Read the Digital Print Issue

September 30, 2020

View more issues

Calendar

© 2020 Orlando Weekly

Website powered by Foundation