I came back to Ecuador resolved to be more positive about things ( or at least to be positive about the positive things). SO it probably wasn’t a good idea to start reading Galápagos by Kurt Vonnegut and watch the film Mejor No Hablar (de Ciertas Cosas) in the first week. Both are laden with dark humour, cynicism and some pretty accurate observations about how screwed up people are (generally).
Mejor No Hablar is set in Portoviejo. If you don’t know this town, it’s a sweltering and fairly nondescript place on the central coastal plain with an interesting local film scene. It’s always cool to see a film from Ecuador make it to the cinema because you know it will have been a struggle. The running footage of Manabi roadsides near the end made me feel quite nostalgic. This was probably Portoviejo’s blockbuster but I’m sure the budget was still tight and I got the impression that, apart from a smashed guitar, the money was used meticulously to create something memorable.
The story goes that two brothers, have a decent upbringing, stable family, a bit of money, but they just want to get wasted and rebel. That’s it really: class rebellion. Lots of funny scenes with sharp dialogue, especially from the younger brother who is bordering on schizophrenic and only feels happy playing guitar and smoking joints down to the stub. Pedro is older and spends the whole movie in the same T-shirt, apart from when he’s having sex or working in the bank which he jacks in half way through. He’s meant to be more responsible and it’s strange how he makes us relate to that, even though nothing he does is responsible.
This isn’t just a movie for stoners (though it might help to be one in terms of empathizing). It’s more about the struggle to do something that means something to someone. The film is really well shot and captures the drabness, desperation, joy and energy that the two main characters are supposed to be experiencing. By the end they both achieve something, though there’s nothing to leave you feeling satisfied. That’s the dark cynical heart that I could relate to.
It took me a little bit longer to read Galápagos. The story is pretty simple but there was plenty to reflect on. A group of people have gathered in Guayaquil in 1986 for the cruise of the century to the Galápagos Islands. Unfortunately it all goes wrong for most of the people that are planning to be on board and the rest of humanity. The story is narrated from a million years in the future which gives Vonnegut the freedom to jump backwards and forwards in time. One result was that although he makes some interesting points and the writing was entertaining, I felt that I knew the whole story and the message long before the end and getting to the last page felt like a matter of routine.
The story doesn’t really have that much to do with Ecuador. It was kind of interesting because I live in Guayaquil but in reality the place names could have been invented.
The central idea that Vonnegut is exploring is whether our brains just make life too complicated for us with our need to be entertained and stimulated and to meddle with the rhythm of life. It’s something I often reflect on in relation to promoting tourism: why do some of us think we have the need and right to travel and invade other societies, demanding instantaneous stimulation from people who usually have neither invited us nor have much comprehension of why we are in their region? If we all just had to look for food maybe there wouldn’t be people like Pedro and Luis. It’s confusing, in fact for me life’s pretty confusing but I’m still glad I have the brain power to contemplate it and be able to do more than hunt, reproduce and survive.