‘Sins’ Questions Assumptions


One largely unspoken yet implicit aspect behind this column as well as my entertainment picks here in The Progressive Populist is how popular amusements can, I believe, affect both our personal lives and the culture at large, and hopefully in a positive fashion. That hit home as I watched the documentary film The Sins of My Father recently on HBO.

The Spanish-language movie — with, I must appreciatively report, highly readable subtitles — recounts the efforts by the son of notorious Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar to try to make amends and heal the wounds of his father’s acts — specifically the assassinations of the country’s Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla and presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan ordered by Escobar. Juan Pablo Escobar, who was a teenager when his fugitive father was killed in 1993, now lives in in Argentina under the name Sebastian Marroquin.

The crux of the film is how Marroquin contacted and later met with the sons of Bonilla and Galan, hoping to effect reconciliation with them as well as for the people of Colombia, and for himself and his relationship with his native land. At the same time it’s a very enlightening look at the recent history of Colombia and how the drug trade created a cycle of violence and social chaos, made all that much more hard-hitting by the personal connection. It also details the struggle of a son to resolve how a very loving father could also have not just committed acts of great evil but largely made a profoundly lucrative career of such.

Contradictions and conflicts abound within both the larger story and its more personal aspects. And it’s an important document for Americans as the failed War on Drugs here as well as abroad continues. The Sins of My Father is also significant for the many if not most of us who have to come to terms with our paternal legacies.

Hence it’s a movie I highly urge readers to see at some point. The way it touches on the personal, social, cultural, legal and political aspects of the hard drug issue is bound to in some way touch most anyone. It is also a moving demonstration of how, even in the most tragic and emotional circumstances, forgiveness can truly heal. Plus as the demographics of America approach a shift from a majority Caucasian nation to one where Hispanics will be the predominant ethnic group in the not too distant future, a not so subtle signal that this nation exists within a hemispheric context that cannot be ignored.

Especially moving are the scenes with Marroquin and the sons of the men his father had killed. First, when Rodrigo Lara Restrepo — now a Colombian senator — traveled to Argentina to meet Marroquin. Then how Marroquin flew back to Colombia in 2008, returning to his homeland for the first time in 13 years, to meet the sons of Galan (one of whom is also a Colombian senator) as well as Lara Restrepo again.

That all involved would allow cameras to record these intensely emotional moments shows great personal strength and highly admirable character. The conversations they have are a testament to how personal and emotional growth can result from the most tragic and horrifying incidents, and offer a deeply moving example of the power of forgiveness. All of these men, who could easily have wallowed in anger and vengefulness, show a stunning maturity and humanity.

That resolution offers a ray of hope for Colombia, whose social and political fabric has been rent if not shattered by the drug trade. It also made me feel like the anger and simmering violence within America and our current political, economic and social divisiveness is possibly reconcilable, even if a scan of the current public landscape raises very deep fears within my heart. The thorny issue of drug legalization is also briefly touched on.

I also find an irony in the story at a time when simmering anti-immigrant sentiments in America directed at Hispanics from south of our border is such a hot-button issue. For all the fears that their culture may somehow damage this nation, the sons of Escobar, Lara Bonilla and Galan all show an eye-opening civility and humanity, even though their lives and even souls were tragically damaged by Colombia’s horrific violence of recent decades. Perhaps they have achieved that state even because of it.

The movie offers potential answers and raises questions because it prompts the viewer to think and feel and question assumptions. It’s an important work of filmmaking that has arrived at a crucial time not just for Colombia but America.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@io.com.

From The Progressive Populist, December 1, 2010


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