Embrace of the Serpent could very well be this generation’s sleeper 2001 as it meditatively traverses into the heart of the jungle whilst analyzing the retrograde nature of people being consumed by the savage nature of the Colombian rain forest. Not only does it study the derangement the jungle brings, but it also showcases the beauty it hides. Embrace of the Serpent is a heartwarming combination of 2001, Apocalypse Now and Herzog’s sensibilities. It even resembles the early development plans for Apocalypse Now that planned the shoot in black & white. Its a touching tale that journeys to the depths of the jungle to present you with a beautiful finale that parallels that of 2001 a couple thousand years prior to the events in that film.
Embrace of the Serpent follows the entangled Amazon river through two different time periods, with the brilliantly portrayed Karamakate tying both stories together. The first one, involving young Karamakate follows Theo, a sickly old German who is searching for a medicinal plant in the depths of the jungle with his loyal companion Manduca. This story displays the effect of Europeans on America and how they’ve corrupted their culture. With certain pit-stops highlighting the damage religion, exploitation and discrimination have done to Colombia. Each one of these stops display a different way the Europeans have modified the native Colombians to abide to their rules, from slavery to Catholic indoctrination, Embrace of the Serpent covers it all and provides smart commentary between Karamakate, Theo, and Manduca that discuss the issue at hand. Not only that, but Embrace of the Serpent finds a way to juxtapose each stop with that same spot later in time by cutting between both stories.
Now the second jungle tale follows Evan, an American botanist looking to research the very same plant Theo was after. Whilst Nibio Torres portrayed young Karamakate as a more frustrated, selfish individual, what we see in this story is completely different. Antonio Bolívar presents old Karamakate as a man who has began to become withered away by time and lost his entire purpose. Whilst shades of young Karamakate are still present in him, Bolívar plays this version in a much more reserved that contrasts perfectly with paralleling story. Where young Karamakate would do something foolish and of pure self-interest at the a stop along the river, old Karamakate would analyze the situation and proceed with caution to fix the issue at hand in that same place years later.
Embrace of the Serpent is a gentle study on culture, age and dreams that utilizes the Colombia’s spiraling rivers to present its tales of madness and joy. Acted and shot beautifully to make you feel as if you are part of this mystical jungle cruise, Embrace of the Serpent is an under-viewed, special type of art film.