Sloan Prize at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, a unique award given to a film that “focuses on science or technology as a theme, or depicts a scientist, engineer, or mathematician as a character. main.” (“Search for ” is the previous winner). There is a special strength in this storytelling ambition, in exploring science with emotion, but it can also be tricky. “Son of Monarchs,” mood-driven and an insatiable metaphor, embodies the same ambitions and flaws of a writer/director trying to feel their way through science, while having minimal experience. narrative possible.
Tenoch Huerta proves his strong silence on screen as Mendel, a hardworking, contemplative scientist who studies butterfly wing color. Her work is at the heart of what the film does—thinking about butterflies, wondering what it would be like if humans could also fly, using butterflies to help understand their emotions. Everything is a metaphor here, connected with the butterfly. The ideas can be very strong, but at some point it’s almost like this film is trying to prove how far the mile can go from ideas that other films would use as meaningful character traits.
If you squint, you can see the foundation of a more distinctive narrative in this story, about a man who returns to his original home in Michoacán in Mexico (to mourn his grandmother, who recently died). Mendel faced different pieces and people from his past life, and then reflected on them when he was at home. These dynamics are expressed calmly, but they are enough to build a sense of family—a wedding for his nephew he was supposed to attend, but many didn’t—and friends, such as Vicente (Gabino Rodríguez), who officiates his own kind of mourning ceremony, where each people wear animal masks and howl at the moon. The most strained relationships involve his older brother Simon (Noé Hernandez); they had a lot of emotional distance between them, especially after Mendel left Michoacán and they basically shared the trauma of losing their parents.
“Son of Monarchs” uses butterfly science for a variety of meanings, including migration, ancestry, and camouflage. With black cuts and the loud roar of subway cars, Gambis’s film takes us away from Mexico and back to life in a concrete jungle that makes Mendel feel even more lonely, which is what we understand most about all of Huerta’s performances. Mendel peered through the microscope, modifying the colors using the controversial new CRISPR technology, which in itself creates more opportunities for films to present monologues about science while dampening emotions. to the lab. Gambis cuts between memories—whether as a child learning about the magic of butterflies from his grandmother, or learning about death and science from his brother Simon—like snippets of lyrics that have been cut out of a book and scattered.
There’s an imbalance of atmosphere and story here that holds the film back from casting a spell as big as it’d like. Some parts of the narrative are underrated—even for the subtlety of emotion—like when Mendel disappears from the people in his life, the emotional parts that don’t have the right direction or impact. At the same time, there are too many dream sequences, moods, and metaphors, so the story messes with the direct connection it makes from humans to animals. It’s almost like a movie is better when the narrative and scientific ideas exist apart from each other, rather than being used to explain someone else’s presence. There are many components of the story involved here, about Mendel returning home, and dealing with relationships with those closest to him, which does not demand the scholarly eye of a poet.
Mendel’s relationship with his older brother, Símon, yields some meaningful and effective scenes, either as children (Símon’s illness at a young age) or as adults. Huerta and Noé Hernández, have an incredible tension that reaches a boiling point, naturally and painfully. This scene is very well done, with edits that allow us to see how each of them process the heartbreaking statement they just heard from the other. It’s the kind of scene that makes “Son of Monarchs” throb, and showcases his promising art. It seemed no coincidence that this scene had nothing to do with butterflies either.