La virgen de los sicarios portrays the endemic violence in the drug cartel town of Medellín, Colombia. The movie follows the story of an older man returns to the place of his childhood and falls in love in turn with two boys who happen to be assassins for the drug gangs in the town. Director Barbet Schroeder highlights the effects of the power vacuum left by the death of the all-powerful drug dealer Pablo Escobar and an overall lack of governmental legitimacy, the recorded murders of 42,000 people in the city of Medellín alone between the years of 1992 and 2002. The older man, a writer named Fernando, slowly becomes accustomed to the deaths of the citizens of Medellín all around him, whether they are the targets of his lovers or the teenaged boys themselves.
During the time period the movie takes place, the street gangs of Medellín are at war with each other, seemingly without one having the advantage over the other. If the audience manages to side with Alexis’ gang—that of Fernando’s lover for the majority of the film—Fernando’s relationship with Wilcam, who he finds out in the end killed Alexis, reveals that no one in this drug war can be considered “good”. Shootings were occurring on a daily basis, unchecked by any governmental officials. In fact, the audience is never graced with the presence of any police force at any point over the course of the film. The director provides a feeling of chaos in Medellín, where crimes happen without repercussions. At one point in the film, Fernando even assumes that the criminal activity must not take place much at all during the nighttime since he sees so much of it occur during the day. According to Ricardo Vargas, Colombia was unable to deal with the violence of the drug gangs due to “its weak capacity to control territory and exercise a monopoly of force in both the city and the countryside” (Vargas 109). During the reign of terror of Pablo Escobar, his gang provided this monopoly of force, but when Escobar was kicked out of the picture, chaos ensued.
Violence in Colombia, however, was not simply a modern phenomenon. The events chronicled in La virgen de los sicarios were propagated by what became a tradition of violence caused by a failed revolution. Eric Hobsbawm notes that Colombia was “a country in which the failure to make a social revolution had made violence the constant, universal, and omnipresent core of public life” (Hylton 31). La virgen de los sicarios portrays the citizens of Medellín as, for the most part, desensitized to violence and death. In fact, even Alexis and Fernando mock the cries of a woman who witnesses to gang members murdered by Alexis in front of her face. None of the other witnesses of Alexis’ or Wilcam’s murders seem overly concerned about the fate of the victims involved.