Our Lady of the Assassins is a film about violence, but also about power. On a purely summary level, the plot is ostensibly an unsettling story of “love,” consent, and death, but the setting in Pablo Escobar’s Medellin ensures that the story is primarily a product of its environment.
Lest the audience forget the realities of Colombia that have created the atmosphere of violence, the film names Escobar and calls attention to the commonplace nature of assassination, most often by allowing the viewer to see through the eyes of Fernando, himself a stranger to his hometown. Medellin is called Metallo by the youth who inhabit it, much in the way that UT students would refer to “Ktown” or “KnoxVegas.” But the nicknames given to Medellin are different, evoking gunfire, blood, death and chaos. The film is firmly grounded in the effects of narcotrafficking and professional assassins, a fact the audience is not allowed to forget.
Medellin is dominated by Escobar and the cartel: in a very real sense, as Ricardo Vargas illustrates, drug traffickers in Colombia “[filled] the void left by an absent state,” becoming in essence the rule of law (Vargas 113). In the absence of an effective federal government, weak localities were left vulnerable to the control of wealthy and unscrupulous drug lords, able to use “private violence… as a mechanism of social control” (Vargas 109).
Pablo Escobar was the epitome of cocaine-fueled influence: in 1982, he was able to become an alternate deputy in Congress, and after his expulsion from the “New Liberalism” faction, as it was promoted by delegates working for increased transparency and decreased corruption, he had his political opponents assassinated (Hylton 52-53). In a city forming the center of Escobar’s sphere of influence, he retained thousands of assassins in case of challenges or threats. As one of the richest men in Colombia, Escobar could buy everything from political sway to murder.
Medellin of Our Lady of the Assassins is a world in which money and power can buy human lives. And on a more fictionalized level, Our Lady of the Assassins illustrates the extent to which these lives can be bought. In impoverished urban Medellin, without the hope of escape and prosperity for most of the civilians who might be caught in the crossfire, both Alexis and Wilmar choose to carry guns, as a weapon and as a shield. Their easy disregard for the value of individual life is obvious in their readiness to shoot anyone who might offend Fernando, and in Alexis’s mockery of the woman horrified when he slaughters two boys out to kill him. On a darker note, the theory that no one is an innocent is subtly reinforced by Wilmar’s later capricious killing: the victim is the same man Fernando had seen shooting a man who refused to give up his vehicle in a carjacking.
Alexis and Wilmar themselves, as well as being killers-for-hire, are driven to change their own lives for capital. Both profess to love Fernando, an older man from a different world who routinely endangers them and, despite enjoying their attentions, cannot bring himself to take them away from Medellin, even knowing their lives are in danger. And while moments of the film may seem surprisingly authentic, such as Alexis choosing a song to remind him of Fernando, is there a chance that either boy would have considered Fernando if he weren’t able to ask them to list everything they desired and procure it for them? This, too, is a relationship of money and power, and the transactions for human lives.
As both Alexis and Wilmar come to unfortunate ends, it’s difficult to distinguish whether or not Fernando’s power economy is any more ethical or affectionate than Pablo Escobar’s.