2020 has been an unprecedented experience for film fanatics of all ages. With the total closure of theaters worldwide, cinephiles have been sequestered at home, relying on costly streaming services to access the newest Hollywood blockbusters, if those films found a new release time at all. In my search to scratch my Kino itch during quarantine, I turned to releases abroad. Rage, originally Llèname de rabia, a Mexican film directed by César Wolfenstein, proved to be a remarkable look into the descent of depravity.
Released in April 2020, this independent production accomplished what few movies this year have even attempted: an enthralling, original plot with beautiful artistic, cinematic and musical accompaniment. The film has a rare aesthetic appeal, combining classical cinematic techniques with elements of intensified continuity and post-modern editing techniques. While it is by no means perfect, Rage crosses antiquity and modernity to create a disturbing yet appropriate mood, and it also juxtaposes plot and aesthetic in a unique and fascinating manner.
The film stars Nancy Rodríguez as Eva, a teenage recluse, though not by choice. Her father keeps her medicated and locked in her room, and he punishes her if she does something against his will or their Christian faith. Their neighbor and Eva’s friend Lilith, played by Berenice García, acts as Eva’s bridge to the outside world, encouraging her to disobey her father and act on her desires. Eva and Lilith begin a tryst. After Eva’s father finds out and beats her for her indiscretions, Eva turns on Lilith, aligning herself with her father out of loyalty and mortal fear. Lilith, feeling insulted and betrayed, steals and disposes of Eva’s medication. And thus begins a downward spiral of succumbing to desire and the folly of man. The two meet with a drug dealer named Adán, played by Axel Altamirano, with whom Eva becomes enamored. The two begin to abuse hard drugs, party incessantly, have frequent, unprotected sex, engage in sex work, and eventually, murder.
The story acts as a modern retelling of the Abrahamic religions’ story of Genesis. The similarities are obvious: Eva is Eve, Lilith is Lilith, and Adán is Adam, and their story surrounds the temptations of the flesh. Eva’s change in personality is even initialized with a scene of her taking a bite from a ripe red apple. So, how is such an orthodox story of temptation remade for the modern era? The film basks in its ability to translate the antiquated story to modern times through stylistic elements: rich colors and bright lights, graphic depictions of sex and drug use, scenes of debauchery intensified by quick cuts, and close ups set to modern technopop. The more explicit scenes are paired with humanizing scenes of reflection with slower and more deliberate cuts and setups. The film even balances the ancient story of moral afflictions with a more modernist perspective of free will and bodily autonomy.
The film simultaneously takes the stance that sins are self-destructive and that sin is human by nature. Why submit to a creator’s will when we have a will of our own? Why would a creator grant free will if our will would only disappoint them? This film uses the story of Adam, Eve and the Garden of Eden as a means of reinforcing the justification for faith and questioning blind faith. It also hypothesizes on the purpose of life by reasserting human autonomy and illustrating the moral ambiguity of actions and motives.
However, Rage is not without its flaws. While it does do an amazing job of articulating philosophy through its artistry, it falls short in its plot. The characters can feel a bit absurd, and their conflicts feel extremely manufactured. The finale also leaves much to be desired: it ties up loose ends with a rather unsatisfying yet grotesque twist that is not for the faint of heart or stomach.
Independent films have a habit of being overlooked by the general population, but Rage should not be. It may not be for everyone, and it may not be a movie to watch casually, but the movie is worth it. Academics and artists alike should take the time to watch Rage and reflect upon its religious and cinematic commentary.