Sin Nombre is a Spanish language film rated “R” for nudity, violence, alcohol use, smoking, foul language, and sexual content. Friends who try to avoid sex and violence in films will want to avoid Sin Nombre. Other Friends believe that such films show us a present reality which we must know in order to change that reality to a “Beloved Community” or—in biblical language—to realize the “Kingdom of God” on Earth. Both viewpoints are valid, but I obviously belong to the latter group.
From my perspective, a searching look at illegal immigration to the United States can lead to advocating change in our immigration policy as well as increased foreign aid to those countries which produce the most immigrants. After all, if money and resources from the U.S. can better the quality of life in Mexico and Central America, the people of those countries will be less inclined to leave their homes for the paraíso of the United States.
So, what’s the plot of Sin Nombre? Well, the film follows the parallel stories of two young people who are trying to escape the harsh realities of life in Mexico and Honduras. Sayra is a Honduran girl who joins her father and uncle on a perilous journey to the United States, where they hope to reunite with their family in New Jersey. Casper is a Mexican boy who is a member of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang but wants to leave his violent life behind. Their paths cross when Casper and his gang friends board a train to rob the migrants who are riding on top of it. Casper saves Sayra from being raped by his gang leader, Lil Mago; but Casper kills Lil Mago in the process. He then decides to flee with Sayra, knowing that his gang will hunt him down for revenge.
Casper and Sayra must evade the gang, the police, and the border patrol as they travel northward. They also develop a romantic bond, despite their different backgrounds and goals. Meanwhile, Casper’s former friend, Smiley, who is a young and impressionable gang recruit, is sent by the new gang leader to kill Casper and prove Smiley’s loyalty to the gang. Smiley finds Casper and Sayra at the border, where a violent confrontation takes place. And—symbolically—the film ends in an American shopping mall.
So, how do I evaluate the film in artistic terms? The characters are well-developed and acted. The scenery is evocative: both the lush landscape of Mexico and the squalid poverty in which the characters live. The story is mostly believable until the end, which seems somewhat contrived. The total effect of the movie is to elicit feelings of compassion for the immigrants. One wants to do something to alleviate the plight of undocumented people trying to enter the U.S.
And therein lies the value of the movie. If illegal immigration is a personal concern, watch this film. I’d gladly loan you my copy via mail. Just email Old Chatham Meeting to arrange the loan.
~ Richard Russell
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