The following article originally appeared at WriterLovesFilm, a film site run by author Natalie Stendall, one of our favorite contributors at Audiences Everywhere. With her permission, we are re-posting the beautiful piece in celebration of Alejandro González Iñárittu and his newest film Birdman, which opened this week in American theaters. Recently, Natalie also inducted Iñárittu’s 21 Grams into our Greats section.
In 2000, director Alejandro González Iñárittu released his first feature-length film, Amores Perros. It was the first film in a trilogy exploring the theme of death. In Amores Perros there are few human deaths but ideals, hopes, and dreams are obliterated.
The Spanish title of his debut, Amores Perros, has numerous meanings. Perros translates to ‘dogs’ which feature heavily in the film (more on that later) but has also been said to mean, in pejoritive terms, ‘an unworthy person’, ‘a hired killer’, ‘a prostitute’ and ‘an unfaithful man’. These various meanings are also reflected in the characters of Iñárittu’s film. As an expression, Amores Perros translates to ‘that which is good and desirable in life and that which is miserable.’
It’s an apt title for Iñárittu’s film, and indeed for his debut. Scope for interpretation flows throughout Inarittu’s entire filmography and never more so than in Amores Perros, a murky, opaque multi-layered film in which Iñárritu raises his questions about fate and love with a lightness of touch, with metaphor and gentle, visual suggestion. The closer you watch Amores Perros, the more it reveals, its themes peeling further on every viewing. Let’s take a look at some of the recurring images Iñárittu uses to convey his ideas and what they (in the spirit of interpretation) might mean.
1. The Car Crash: An Accident Of Fate
Amores Perros opens with a frenetic, fraught car chase. A dog is dying on the back seat while its owner tries desperately to evade those pursuing him through the busy streets of Mexico. The chase ends in a cataclysmic crash that pulls together three different stories – a man’s lust for his brother’s wife, a model coping with dramatic career and relationship changes and an absent father’s guilt. This car chase appears numerous times throughout the film from these different perspectives: the model is a victim of the crash which throws her life into chaos and the father a passerby who rescues a dog from the wreckage. But this tragic event is not just a flimsy device to tie the film’s strands together, it is an accident of chance used to explore Iñárritu’s compelling theme of fate.
The transient connections between lives – the unexpected, fleeting crossovers – suggest a bigger, metaphysical presence in the universe. In the moments leading up to the second and third times we see the car crash, we anticipate it, we can feel it is about to happen. But we’re always shocked when it does. The context is different each time and so are the angles it’s captured from, more details are revealed. This peculiar blend of anticipation and surprise draws our attention to the interconnected nature of life.
As we’ll see from the next recurring image, Iñárritu grounds these gargantuan ideas in the atmospheric, carnal violence of humanity and the painful physicality of separation. Most importantly though, in his subtle use of the car crash, he creates a space for us to make up our own minds about our place in the universe and whether fate really does exist.
2. Dogs & Dog Fighting: Pets Are Like Their Owners
The brutality of human existence, the cruel reality of love, is explored through the animals of Amores Perros. In the film’s first story ‘Octavio and Susana’, Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is lured into the underground world of dog-fighting. Needless to say this is not a film for sensitive dog lovers. There are frequent images of dead animals, their fur matted with dark red blood. When two dogs are pitted against each other, teeth bared, reared on their hind legs, thrashing at their collars, Iñárittu unleashes the full force of carnal violence.
This selfish, brutal under-world symbolises the instinctive side of human nature, and what happens when we give in to it: a theme that runs throughout the film as a whole. Yet the dogs in Amores Perros are also symbolic their owners. Octavio’s dog Cofi begins life as a pet but degenerates into a fierce, brutish animal. His owner Octavio follows a similar path of degeneration as he lusts after his brother’s wife, becoming sexually aggressive towards the woman he covets and increasingly violent towards his own brother.
As a result of the accident Cofi ends up in the hands of disheveled hermit and contract killer, El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), where he attacks and kills the other animals El Chivo has rescued. It’s one of the film’s most devastating, bloodthirsty and brutal scenes and it marks a crucial turning point in El Chivo’s story. Just like his new owner, Cofi is a trained killer. El Chivo’s realisation of this – of the destruction he has caused in his own life – motivates him to change. But once a dog, or even a man, has learnt to be this way, can he change?
Richie, the dog belonging to model Valeria (Goya Toledo), is entirely different from Cofi. He’s a cute, fluffy, friendly lap dog, well kept and beautiful. He’s decidedly middle class. But Richie’s plight reflects that of his owner too. Richie becomes trapped beneath the floorboards of Valeria’s apartment while she comes to terms with the loss of her leg following the accident. Valeria desperately calls for him but Richie fails to come out. He whines and whimpers but will not come. Valeria cannot control Richie any more than she can control her own life. They are both trapped in their own prisons and neither escapes unscathed.
3. The Perfume Ad: Beauty, Love and The Mexican City
Throughout Amores Perros, a perfume advert for ‘Enchant’ appears plastered onto buildings across the Mexican city. It shows Valeria in a suggestive pose, teasing up her short dress to reveal long elegant legs. In Valeria’s story the poster hangs across the street from her apartment providing a cruel reminder of her disfigurement. Valeria’s relationship with partner, Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), which initially began as an affair, is tested as she comes to terms with the loss of her physical beauty. Throughout Valeria and Daniel’s story, the advert reminds us of love’s tests and the fragility of lust.
What do you think about Amores Perros? Let us know your thoughts on the film’s hidden meanings and metaphors in the comments below. If you haven’t seen it before, Amores Perros, is a wonderful introduction to Iñárittu’s work. It is currently available to view at Amazon PrimeNatalie Stendall is running an ongoing spotlight on the films of Alejandro González Iñárittu. You can read all of the posts on her website, WriterLovesFilm.com.