Thursday, May 17, 2018


A mystery is presented in different manners in Tom Shadyac’s Dragronfly (2002) which confuses the audience about the main genre of the movie. It starts with the sudden death of a loved one and its denial, then it turns into an almost scary ghost film, and finally closes with a dangerous adventure in the Venezuelan jungle, all driven by the conviction that love goes beyond death. The story is full of clues and analogies suggesting a truth that Dr. Joe Darrow (Kevin Costner) will discover after immersing himself into the mysterious Amazon forest.

The story starts with a chaotic scene in which Joe’s pregnant wife, doctor Emily Darrow (Susana Thompson), is taken on a bus from a rural community in Venezuela to another location as part of a Red Cross mission. Waters from a heavy rain soften the soils of a poorly constructed and unsafe road causing a landfall and pushing the bus to an end down the cliff. Some people were rescued, other died, but Emily’s body was never found, which raises doubts in Joe’s mind on whether his wife really died or not. Joe becomes frustrated trying to find answers to what did his wife see in Latin America that she rather put herself and their baby in danger than building a career in a U.S hospital, as he did. “I am needed there”, said Emily before going in the mission which tells us about the interest on helping as one of the reason. But there are some symbols suggesting that Emily was also attracted by exotic nature such as her pet and her favourite animal, a talking parrot and dragonflies which are found in tropical places like the Amazon rainforest.

Meanwhile, the mystery increases more and more reaching a stage of mental breakdown. Joe chooses to work in the pediatric department of the hospital where his wife used to work. Emily starts to appear in the dreams of children at the edge of death and like a ghost hunts Joe’s house attempting to communicate a message. Dragonflies, rainbows, waterfalls and pictures of his wife with an indigenous community in the Amazon forest are the hints Emily provides Joe with to force a trip to Venezuela.

Once in Venezuela, there is a lot of distrust of the alien. Joe is skeptic about the abilities of Venezuelans to handle technology like flying a small plane or indigenous holding guns. On the other hand, Venezuelans are also skeptic about leaving Joe getting into the Amazon and to their villages by himself. Though Venezuela is portrayed as a poor country that lacks knowledge about technologies or medicine, the travel guide and indigenous people of the area own another type of knowledge that Joe lacks: they know the forest and its dangers. The little importance Joe gives to this local knowledge is the cause of a misfortune that almost costs his own life. By the end of the movie, Joe finally finds the place from his wife’s pictures, a village of indigenous people next to a waterfall from where a rainbow usually emerges, and a small mark of a dragonfly on a baby’s foot, the baby the people from village saved before Emily passed away. “I do not know what Emily saw [….] and I do not know how the baby survived so small and fragile in the middle of the jungle”; that is Joe’s reflection on how the plot unfolded and then comes back to its routine in Chicago.

In this movie, the Amazon rainforest is depicted as a dangerous place, especially because of imaginaries of "wilderness" with landscapes free of human intervention. This romanticization of nature takes two forms in the movie. On one hand, Emily's desire to go on the Red Cross mission shows a paternalistic perspective from which arises a feeling of humanitarian responsibility. Taking care of those living in a stage of intellectual immaturity and provide them with the "advancements" of modernity including technology and medicine is a goal to reach. On the other hand, Shadyac presents the survival of Joe's daughter as a miracle. Even though it is very explicit that she was taken care of by the indigenous tribe, Joe talks about the jungle disregarding the people living there and their knowledge, like if the baby was left alone for the whole time.

When the plot moves to Venezuela, the visual hierarchy of the different societies being represented is clear (like in the image). On the top is Joe coming from the United States, a well-educated man who wears clean clothes. Then we have the guide, a Venezuelan who speaks Spanish, the tribe's language, and even more important for the plot, English; he knows how to drive and fly aircraft (though without a license) and wears average clothes, but a bit old and dirty. And at the bottom, there is the tribe. Even under the developing Venezuelan society portrayed in the character of the guide, these people speak only their language, live in the jungle, use primitive tools to defend themselves, and wear almost no clothes. How could the tribe live without medicine, without technology and many other things that are indispensable for modern societies? There is no answer to this question in the movie because whatever they knew or did to maintain their lifestyle is not considered as something important, and on the contrary, indigenous people are happy and thankful to be introduced to Western knowledge. That is what an old indigenous lady tells Joe about what Emily did for them. For the director of this movie the reality of the Amazon tribes and people of Latin America more generally, could change if people like Emily and Joe reach those "wild" communities.

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