Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Desperado and the Desperation of Feminism

At the conclusion of El Mariachi, the film's titular character is left with even the simplest of his dreams shattered.

The woman he loves has been killed in a fit of rage by Mauricio, a gringo ganglord. He's been shot in the hand, ruining his dreams of becoming a great mariachi.

As Desperado begins, El Mariachi (now played by Antonio Banderas) is now a man possessed by rage. Killing Mauricio hasn't satisfied his desire for revenge, and he now seeks to vanquish Bucho (Joachim de Almeida), Moco's criminal patron.

El Mariachi has adjusted to life as a gun slinger remarkably well.

Early on in El Mariachi, the titular character muses that nothing ever changes. In Desperado, this has held to be true.

The only thing that has changed is El himself. He has set about building himself a reputation as a man to be feared, and he has succeeded, to the extent that anyone dressed in black and carrying a guitar case -- which describes nearly any mariachi in Mexico -- is shaken down and searched for weapons.

In fact, there now seems to be no one better at what he does than El Mariachi himslef. With daring and gusto he shoots down an entire barful of Mexican toughs.

Conditions in Mexico have only deteriorated since the events of El Mariachi. Even as Bucho's men hunt him, he is also hunted by an assassin sent by Bucho's Colombian suppliers. Played to perfection by Danny Trejo (Hollywood's prototypical big, scary Mexican), the knife-throwing assassin tears into Bucho's men before being killed.

Under such conditions, everyone in the town lives in a state of quiet desperation, helping Bucho run his operation out of a simple lack of safe alternatives.

But if trying to live free as a man under the reign of such chaos is difficult, it's even harder for women.

When El Mariachi meets Carolina (Salma Hayek), she is immediately struck by him. As with most of the townspeople, she acquiesces to participation in Bucho's activities, allowing her book store to be used as a front for portions of Bucho's criminal enterprise.

In falling in love with El Mariachi, she seems to become dependent on him for her way out. But appearances are very deceiving. In time, Caroline learns to be every bit as lethal as her lover.

Caroline shares with him a libertarian love of freedom. Bucho has managed to take her freedom of action and freedom of association away from her. It's through the conscious choice of helping El Mariachi when he is wounded -- on two occasions -- that she begins to recover that freedom.

When she leaves with him, it's of her own free choice. It may be the first free choice she has made in a long time.

Even though El Mariachi clearly has a hand in providing her with that choice, it's Caroline herself who finds the will to exercise it.

Caroline learns to be feminine, beautiful, powerful, masculine, and free all at the same time. It's a reminder that the approach to liberty espoused by libertarianism is actually the ideal condition for feminism to thrive.

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