La ultima cena- Blog 2
“To be considered ‘historical,’ rather than simply a costume drama that uses the past as an exotic setting for romance and adventure, a film must engage, directly or obliquely, the issues, ideas, data, and arguments of the ongoing discourse of history.”
This movie very directly involves the issue of slavery and confronts it with great historical accuracy. It is a startling portrayal of ignorance, influence, and most of all the power of freedom. Through plain and unclear symbolism it is able to depict all of the points of view whether they were right or wrong.
The strongest use of symbolism is through religion. The movie is full of religious symbols especially through the use of Holy Week to portray all of the events. The symbolism is also comparative, between what the Count believes and what is actually occurring. For example at the end of the movie the Count portrays Don Manuel as Jesus but Jesus is actually symbolized through the twelve slaughtered slaves and especially the slave Sebastian. Sebastian is raised again at the end of the movie through his freedom being symbolized through birds, and other animals. There is also symbolism through the Count’s bird at the beginning of the movie. He has it caged up and is trying to make it sing. This symbolizes all of his slaves who he tries to make convert to Christianity but like the bird it is not easy for them to forget everything they have always known.
The three strongest elements involve the three white men and their delusions about slaves. There is the Count, the foreman, and the priest. The Count plays the typical plantation owner who is out of touch with his plantation. He thinks that he can come in and make radical religious changes and in turn be seen as a good slave owner who has never done anything wrong. He does not see that his ignorance about the interactions on the plantation and even of the slave itself will lead to his demise. The foreman in the movie typifies what John Mraz described in his piece; he is forced by the demand constraints. But, he also is influenced by enlightenment thinking and does not see the importance of teaching the slaves religion. He above all sees the slaves as producers and nothing else. The priest is the most ignorant of all, he believes that by teaching the slaves Christianity and obedience through religion that they will see that their situation is actually somehow meant to be. All three of these men are delusional.
Through the research of Sergio Giral he is able to get into the heads of these men and describe what they were really thinking. He is able to describe to the audience how these men see the slaves as having the intellectual capacity of lower than a child. They do not see them as humans. What is even more surprising is the dehumanizing within the priests eyes. Through his eyes the slaves did not have a culture or religion before becoming slaves.
A surprising well-done portrayal in the movie is of the slaves. They do not seem like cultureless machines. They have a story of their own, and Giral describes what their lives were like before being captured. In one of the readings this week, from the website entitled “The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas,” it was very interesting to see the images of slave life. One category, which contrasted well with the movie, was the Pre-Colonial Africa. Because, one thing the movie emphasized that is so overlooked when studying the miseries of slavery is the culture that these slaves left behind in Africa. It is referenced many times in the movie especially during the dinner scene. The Count asks one of the slaves about his culture back in Africa. He responds by stating that he was a King. He describes how the culture of slavery became rooted in their culture of war with other tribes. Through the images on the website, the rich culture even civilization that these people had is witnessed. The idea that through slavery the white man was saving Africans from a life of barbarianism is not true. Comparatively the destructive factor of slavery was much like the destructiveness of the encounter with the Indians. Men and women of rich heritage were stripped of all of this and forced to work for the white man. In return the white man expected that the African conform to his customs. This forced custom is seen in the movie through the scene where the priest is making the slaves bath to make themselves clean. He gets angry with the women because they are bare-chested while washing clothes in the river. He says that they are sinners. This is what they are accustomed to, what they have done for centuries. For a white man to first force them to come to his country and then expect them to change to his needs shows the true ruthlessness of slavery from every dimension.
The most powerful element of all is the power that the slaves figure out that they have and through that take initiative. The slaves have more power than they even know they have. That is one point that Giral tries to make throughout the movie is the paranoia that the white man had. Especially the influence of the Haitian rebellion on the mindset of these people. As Kirsten Shultz points out in the example of Brazil, in the country of Brazil which was much like Cuba the sheer mass population of slaves created a climate of paranoia. This sense of paranoia would become to backbone of the way the slave owners communicated and punished their slaves. As Kristen Shultz gives the example in her article about Brazil, “Slavery dominated early nineteenth century Brazil’s economy and society, and at least half of the population was of African descent.” Through this movie Giral portrays slaves as being in a dire situation, but he does not paint a hopeless population. He shows that through the use of sheer numbers and imbedded paranoia that the slaves in many cases could succeed to freedom.
Till next week,