Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Naturalism in Gregory Nava's Film El Norte

Academic journal article West Virginia University Philological Papers

Naturalism in Gregory Nava's Film El Norte

Article excerpt

Emile Zola's (1840-1902) theories on Naturalism do not need to be elaborated in this essay since they are universally known. For the purposes of this paper, it need only be mentioned that in his seminal work, The Experimental Novel and Other Essays (1893), Zola postulates that mankind's function and destiny in any given society are determined by both heredity and environment. In this same novel, Zola asserts that any literary product should be researched and written as a scientific experiment in which the protagonists function within these proscribed boundaries which to him are uncontrollable entities that have already predestined the destiny of the main characters.

This literary current known as naturalism came to Latin America from Europe, particularly from Spain and France, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and influenced the writings of prominent Spanish American authors of this period. At this time, the national and international exploitation of the natural resources of Latin America and the abject poverty this exploitation generated helped create the environment and the conditions for the inculcation of naturalism in the literature of the period. Prominent Latin American writers like the Chilean, Baldomero Lillo (1867-1923), the Uruguayan Javier de Viana (1868-1926) and the Mexican novelist Federico Gamboa (1864-1939) based the majority of their works on Zola's theory of naturalism, which, as stated earlier, affirmed that man's destiny and function were determined by his environment and his heredity. In the cinema, film directors directly or indirectly incorporated naturalistic approaches in their movies. The Spanish director, Luis Bunel (1900-1983), utilized the theories of naturalism, consciously or unconsciously, in many of his movies but particularly in his epic film Los Olvidados ((1952), in which he portrayed the predestined plight of the protagonists living in squalor and misery in the country of Mexico. Also, the Peruvian director, Armando Robles Godoy (1923-2010), knowingly or not depicted aspects of Zola's naturalistic theories in his widely-acclaimed film, La Muralla Verde (1970) in which he traced the preordained lives of the protagonists as they struggled to etch a living in the unforgiving jungles of Peru.

It is the contention of this writer that the North American director, Gregory Nava (1949-) also utilizes, deliberately or not, Zola's theories on naturalism in his epic 1984 film El Norte. In this paper, an application of these theories of naturalism in this film will be analyzed through an examination of the movie and of the protagonists and their environment.

Filmed in 1983 and released in 1984, El Norte lyrically and dramatically recounts the story of two young Guatemalan siblings, Enrique and Rosa, and their illegal and heartrending migration to the United States through Mexico. Their heroic journey begins in a small village in Guatemala and ends in Los Angeles. The goal of both Enrique and his sister is to escape military persecution in their native country and to achieve the American dream of which they had heard so much from their Guatemalan godmother. In the first part of the film, their father, Arturo, and some of his co-workers are assassinated by the military because they tried to form a workers' syndicate to fight for better working conditions. Arturo and his friends were day laborers and the movie depicts them toiling endlessly and miserably in one of the coffee plantations owned by national and international corporations. After they are murdered, their village is attacked by the Guatemala army, their mother is arrested and disappears and the siblings are forced to flee since Enrique is being hunted by the Guatemalan army as he is guilty of killing one of their own.

In the second part of the film, they travel by track and bus through Mexico until they reach Tijuana and after several attempts, they succeed in illegally crossing into Los Angeles by crawling through a rat-infested tunnel. …

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