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Film shows imperialism as barbarism



Johnny Depp plays a sadistic colonel in Waiting for the Barbarians. A caricature-like Trump. Photo: disclosure.

American imperialism is a form of contemporary colonization that subjects countries to fierce exploitation.


The American bourgeoisie plunders the wealth of local populations, destroying lives and cultures, transforming societies and communities into poor and desperate human gatherings.


The level of violence is the only variable in the loot: sometimes, the American bourgeoisie appeals to brute force and sends its armies to dominate entire regions, as happened in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.


Sometimes it counts on the goodwill of the bourgeoisie, the military apparatus, and the justice system of the colonized countries. These agents do their dirty work against their compatriots in exchange for fat fortunes. These are the cases of Brazil and Colombia, for example.


It was precisely in Colombia that a young filmmaker emerged. He directed only five films, however has been consistently reflecting on the impacts of contemporary imperialism.


Born in 1981, Ciro Guerra directed Embrace of the Serpent (2015), about the colonization of the Amazon, his most famous film.



Film is directed by young Colombian filmmaker Ciro Guerra

However, Waiting for the Barbarians (2019) is our focus in this text. South African writer J. M. Coetzee wrote the screenplay that is an adaptation of his same title novel.


The movie shows an empire advancing on inhabited lands doing what it knows best to do: destroy, plunder, and subdue populations.


The point of view belongs to the Magistrate, a character played by English actor Mark Rylance.


The Magistrate leads a community in a fort located on the edge of the empire in a desert area. Around him, however, live populations with whom he maintains a relationship of peaceful distrust.


Period cinematography suggests that the empire is British and that the frontier is Asian. However, the film insists on leaving these gaps for the viewer to fill in.


The Magistrate's routine is broken when the central power sends the army to repress the indigenous peoples with the excuse that they are violent and threatening barbarians.


Colonel Joll (Johnny Depp) and Officer Mandel (Robert Pattinson) represent the military power.


When they enter the scene, the narrative becomes a succession of acts of violence, arbitrariness, and torture opposing, on the one hand, the civilized figure of the Magistrate and, on the other, the sadism of the military, giving ambiguity to the film's title.


The casting choices of American Johnny Depp and English Robert Pattinson deserve a comment. Depp plays a histrionic character, on the edge of caricature. The colonel resembles many he has played before.


His farcical approach symbolically places the United States, in the figure of the Hollywood actor, within the film. A kind of Trump. Pattinson's character has the same function concerning the UK.


The Magistrate's journey points out that the central power will not hesitate to eliminate its members if they show any form of resistance or opposition to its methods.


The film analyses imperialism in our current moment, besides his period costumes.


The frontier may be the desert in Texas or the green Amazon. However, the cruelty and arbitrariness of the empire are always the same and always aim at the same results.

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