Revisiting ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’: A Political Perspective
“You are lucky to live in a country like this…Mexico. It exudes life everywhere.” So says dental hygienist and sex-goddess Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú). Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, often remembered by viewers as a boundary pushing coming of age story, is equally as much a deeply perceptive portrayal of Mexico and a few of its inhabitants. Although the scenery in Y Tu Mamá También, especially scenes on a phantom beach called “Heaven’s Mouth”, is breathtakingly stunning, Cuarón is careful to point out that this “beautiful” country as Luisa calls it not only exudes life, but also death.
The film is challenging to categorize. On a surface level, Y Tu Mamá También is a quintessential road movie, following two pubescent, sticky teenage boys accompanied by an unlikely bedfellow in the form of a married Spaniard named Luisa. The plot seems to be a perfect equation for the latest Mexican sex comedy. However, the detail and grace that Cuarón pays to these characters and their country results in a much more affecting and even tragic journey than the typical genre film.
We are first introduced to Tenoch (Diego Luna) as we watch him having sex with his equally libidinous girlfriend, quickly followed by a scene of Julio (Gael García Bernal) following suit. The audience is immediately aware of the differences between these two best friends, as a recurring voiceover explains that Tenoch—a boy from an upper class political family—is allowed to spend the night with his girlfriend, whereas Julio must return in the evening to his working class mother. The two boys’ girlfriends are on their way to Europe for the summer, leaving the protagonists to maneuver their way through a summer filled with theoretical sex, drugs, masturbation and alcohol. Throughout the film it becomes clear that, more than anything, Tenoch and Julio are on a journey to find themselves, trying to become what they think is “cool” and “manly”, and more often than not contradicting these conceptions.
Neither of the boys care much about politics, although the issue permeates every facet of their lives and is oftentimes reflected in them and their interactions. Tenoch doesn’t want to enroll in economics, although ends up pursuing this route on the orders of his corrupt Harvard educated politician father. The boys show contempt at the protests occurring in Mexico City, although Julio’s sister is an activist demanding change. Even Tenoch’s name is inherently political. But the boys choose to disregard their overtly political, corrupt and even disturbingly unequal surroundings. Instead they live in their very own testosterone filled bubble.
At a bridal party they end up meeting Tenoch’s cousin’s wife, Luisa. She is seen in a clingy white dress that leaves little to the imagination. Tenoch and Julio begin to drunkenly and clumsily flirt with her in an almost predatory fashion. They invite her on a made-up road trip to a fictitious beach called Heaven’s Mouth, purely as an act of both jest and domination, expecting to be disregarded. And initially they do. But due to circumstances beyond her control, including an intoxicated admission by her husband that he has been unfaithful, Luisa decides a road trip with two rambunctious teens may be just what she needs.
Tenoch and Julia attempt to put on a façade of knowledge and masculine control, sticking to the story that Heaven’s Mouth in fact exists. They pass exaggerated tales back and forth, bragging about their sexuality and their partying in hopes of impressing the fantasy woman who has somehow found her way into their car. They even reveal to her their Manifesto, signed in blood. The two boys are “charolastras” and have proclaimed, among other things, that a hit is happiness, morals are less important than jerk offs, one must never marry a virgin or screw the other’s girl, and although truth is great, it is unachievable. If any of the rules are broken, they lose the title of “charolastra”. The two protagonists are inherently bonded thanks to this manifesto, despite their drastically different home lives.
Although overt clashes never occur between the classes, the tensions still deeply penetrate the film and its characters. It is revealed that Tenoch uses his foot to lift up the toilet in Julio’s house, something he also does at the cheap motel, exemplifying his degrading attitude towards the working class. On the other hand, Julio tries to fit in with the upper class, lighting a match to mask the smell after using the restroom at Tenoch’s house. These simple revelations by the voiceover narrator reveal the undeniable division between classes and attitudes in the country, despite an image that they live harmoniously together. While driving through the country, the narrator reveals that they are travelling through the hometown of Tenoch’s nanny, who migrated to Mexico City at age 13 and began working for his family. Until age 4, Tenoch called her Mom, suggesting that these divisions are culturally manifested issues. Yet they still must remain—Tenoch chooses not to speak about his nanny, despite the revelation that he is in her birthplace.
Mexico itself also can’t resolve these differences. Just because political change was permeating the country in the early 2000s, it didn’t mean that the nation was instantly a stable democracy. Cuarón makes this clear not only by drawing parallels between the country and the characters, but also through the objective yet omniscient voice over, which constantly makes sure to not only reveal what the landscape has suffered in the past, but also what injustices or inconsistencies may occur in the future. We hear of deadly car accidents that happened in the past, expensive hotels that will ruin a family’s future, and deadly infections that have yet to arrive. Cuarón also uses the camera to reveal the country in ways that the characters choose to avoid. For example, when a poverty-stricken man comes begging at a restaurant, he is quickly appeased and disregarded by the protagonists. But the camera leaves the characters and explores the other individuals in the space, including the lower class women working and dancing in the back room. The audience often is directed towards citizens being stopped and interrogated by police. We also see a bride blocking a country road, asking for “contributions for the queen”. This scene is in direct contrast to the party scene that Tenoch’s family attends at the beginning of the film, also featuring a young bride of a drastically different class.
Just as Mexico itself attempts to put up a façade of maturity and authority, when in fact inequality and corruption pervade, these teenage boys cannot stick to their manifesto. Luisa stirs up their homeostasis and the differences between the two protagonists become more pronounced, resulting in viscous competition. They denounce each other as “charolastras” and sling class-based insults back and forth in an attempt to both dominate and reestablish balance. When they do make peace in a homoerotic moment, it becomes very apparent in the bright sober light that this reconciliation will not, and cannot happen. The world simply does not work in this way, despite efforts by Luisa to educate and pacify them.
In the end, the film comes off as not only a character exploration, but also a political and social commentary on Mexico during the early 2000s. We are constantly reminded that although this may be a fresh day, the problems, inequalities and injustices of the past still pervade, and that the carefree ignorance of youth can only last so long. After having childish fun, everyone must face reality.
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