By now, Alejandro Inarritu’s works are expected to have brilliant visuals, often ushering in abstract ideas and symbolisms, and his latest, “Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths,” is in a similar fashion. But where it differs from the celebrated director’s previous works is in its extremely personal, indulgent, and a tad bit pretentious style. Its broken narrative, if we can call it that, follows a celebrated journalist and documentary filmmaker, Silverio Gama, who returns to his native country of Mexico after decades of living and working in the USA. Inarritu’s directions and visuals, and the overall presentation, are intriguing enough to make one sit through its 160-minute runtime, but it is in its effect on the viewer once the spectacle is over that “Bardo” falters and struggles.
‘Bardo’ Plot Summary: What Is The Film About?
From the very beginning, “Bardo” starts off with a crazy shot, as the shadow of a man is seen on the sands of a desert, with the shadow growing smaller and the camera also panning out. Then again, the shadow grows bigger, with the camera again moving in close. A man, unseen, is traveling across a desert, jumping up and flying some distance before landing again and repeating the same process. The reason why the film’s unraveling can be called “broken narrative” is that numerous scenes do not connect with each other in the usual way and can only be brought under a general understanding from a broader perspective. At its very core, Silverio Gama is a renowned and celebrated journalist who has also taken on the responsibilities of a documentary filmmaker in recent times. Silverio has a family of his own—he and his loving wife Lucia are still very passionate, their teenage son Lorenzo, who is at the right age for developing serious thoughts and questions, and their young adult daughter Camila, who works some minor job in Boston. Silverio and his family had moved to the United States of America shortly after the birth of their children and have been living in Los Angeles ever since, with Silvio practicing his profession in his new home country. After years of distinguished service as a journalist, the man is now about to be awarded a prestigious American recognition and, incidentally, happens to be the very first Latin American individual to get this award. A proper stage show event for this has also been planned, but a few weeks before that, Silverio returns to his native Mexico after almost fifteen or twenty years. While Lucia and Lorenzo join him, Camila flies in a few days later to spend time together as a family. Over the next few weeks, Silverio goes through a chain of abstract, unreal experiences and thoughts that make him constantly question and assess himself inside his mind.
What Are The Conflicts Inside Silverio’s Mind?
Essentially, “Bardo” is about a number of deep conflicts and doubts inside Silverio’s mind that constantly make him consider his worth. Some of these issues can even be seen as autobiographical since they line up well with Inarritu’s own life and career. Much like Silverio’s return to his homeland after twenty or so years, “Bardo” is Inarritu’s first work to be completely shot in Mexico, where he too hails from, after “Amores Perros,” which was made in 2000. In more than one way, Silverio reflects on this homecoming in the same manner that the director himself might be thinking. Inarritu makes no secret of the fact that “Bardo” is extremely personal to him and is made from very internal thoughts of his, and this, too, is reflected in the character of Silverio, who openly admits that his more recent documentaries are indeed quite personal. One of the primary qualms, or doubts, in Silverio’s mind, which is also revealed in the initial part of the film itself, is the real significance of the American award that he is about to receive. As a dedicated journalist, he has always been involved with holding up and revealing whatever the truth is, and yet this accolade in his life seems to be a very sugar-coated lie. In Silverio’s present world, Amazon is working hard to buy off the Mexican state of Baja California as private property, and the US government is fully backing the company. While the Mexican government seems ready to strike such a deal, the Mexican people still remain unwilling to simply sell off their land to the enemy, and this is where Silverio comes in. With him being promised an exclusive interview with the President of the United States and also the esteemed journalism award, the US expects Silverio to work out the deal for them. With the man’s popularity in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the US government wants him to sort of convince the people to turn in their favor. The thought that his award is, after all, a leverage to attain the capitalist commodity is strongly present in Silverio’s mind, and yet he is also proud of what he is achieving. Where he seems to work against this thought is by recreating scenes from Mexico’s past in a glorious and stylized manner in his documentaries, which are not necessarily well-received or understood by common audiences. Numerous such scenes are shown throughout the film, the first being events from the Mexican American War, in which Mexican forces had to fight American invaders. Another example of this comes later in the film when Silverio uses the Zocalo square in Mexico City to shoot his docufiction film; he creates a pile of bodies representing the thousands of Aztecs killed in the Spanish conquest of Mexico, atop which sits the perpetrator of this massacre, Hernan Cortes. Also, in a rather self-indulgent manner, Silverio has started to include himself in his recent films, and in this case, too, he climbs the pile of bodies and then converses with the Spanish conquistador.
Silverio is immensely nervous and fearful that his fellow countrymen and professionals can also see through the farce of this American award and consider him an ultimate sellout working for the white man. Since returning to Mexico, a success party for his accolade is planned, and a few days before this, a popular talk show invites him for an interview. Silverio agrees to it and is then seen reaching the studio and preparing for the questions in an elaborate sequence. But trouble brews as soon as his old colleague and present host of the show, Luis, starts the program with the very difficult questions. Luis directly asks Silverio to defend against his claims that the celebrity journalist has escaped the problems of Mexico to live a life of privilege in America while his countrymen are still struggling massively. Luis then directly starts to call out Silverio’s hypocrisies, to the cheers of the whole audience, and then the entire sequence is revealed to be just Silverio’s imagination. The journalist fears that this is exactly what would happen if he appeared on live television and therefore did not show up for the interview. Despite Luis’ multiple calls and the TV channel’s arrangements for the interview, Silverio skips it without any prior notice. He is clearly not a man to enjoy the public limelight, as an almost similar evasion takes place at the success party as well. After his film is screened at a crowded theater, music and celebrations follow, with all of Silverio’s family members, siblings, and cousins included, and his old and current co-workers arriving to greet him. At one point, Silverio is requested to get up on the stage and speak, but the journalist cowers in the crowd and escapes the situation. Luis also turns up at this party and confronts Silverio about his strange absence from his programme, to which Silverio launches personal attacks against the talk show host and refuses to listen to his words beyond a point. Since this is Silverio’s narrative, Luis’ words are literally not heard beyond this point, even though the man keeps angrily shouting at the journalist.
Along with this fear and guilt over having escaped from his country’s situation, Silverio also suffers from a grave identity crisis with regard to his nationality. As much as he loves the privileges and luxuries of calling himself an American citizen, he is also equally obsessed with the high-society currency of introducing himself as a Mexican, a representative of the Latin American continent. This conflict is very well revealed through conversations with his family, especially his teenage son. Lorenzo is at that exact crucial stage of his development when he cannot help but wonder whether he is American or Mexican. When the family visits Mexico, Lorenzo thinks of the easy facilities of America, but Silverio admonishes him for this, just like he does for Lorenzo’s habit of speaking English at home instead of Spanish. Lorenzo is confused and irked by his father’s conflicting beliefs, and he asks the most damning question that could have been in this context—if Silverio liked being Mexican so much, then why did he decide to raise his kids in the US? After Lorenzo storms out of the room and the conversation, Lucia confirms that her husband is indeed struck by this extreme conflict. Silverio has plenty of complaints and accusations against the government and people of Mexico, and yet he feels the need to defend his country and nation whenever someone else tries to attack it. This conflict, or duality, is definitely born out of the rootlessness that Silverio believes himself to suffer from, and this again gets highlighted much later on when Camila informs him that she intends to leave her job in Boston and return to Mexico and work here. Silverio is quick to remind her of the dangers and struggles of living in Mexico, but ultimately supports her decision. In this particular instance, Silverio’s duality also seems to be about social class, along with the idea of nationality. He keeps talking about public transportation and the easy facilities it provides for common people, yet himself has no idea about its workings. The man feels strange and awkward when his friends in Mexico make fun of him for being too involved with white people, jokingly suggesting that he is almost no longer a Mexican. He decides not to intervene in the posh resort’s decision to not allow an Indigenous woman because she is a servant of the family and of the lower class. Yet, towards the end of the film, when the family returns to America, a Hispanic-American airport personnel refuses to accept that America is their home, and Silverio is enraged by this. He searches for a superior and demands an apology, for, in this context, he is most definitely an American.
A third matter that Silverio struggles with is an extremely private and familial one, shared both by him and his wife. Silverio and Lucia had lost their first child, Mateo, just a day after his birth, and the two have struggled to live with this grief ever since. Their way of dealing with it is to consider that Mateo did not want to be born in this world, which he believed to be messed up as he whispered to the doctor after his birth and was then pushed back inside his mother’s body. These are, of course, symbols to signify how gravely the parents were affected by this incident, and there are plenty of such scenes in the film. After the baby is pushed back inside Lucia, her umbilical cord seems to be infinitely long, perhaps suggesting the extensive number of years that she and her husband take to get over this loss. Every time the couple gets romantically involved, the baby pokes its head out of the mother’s body and refuses to get back inside, signifying a very real but mental barrier between the couple’s lovemaking. In fact, Silverio and Lucia even still keep baby Mateo’s ashes in an urn by the side of their bed, and it is only much later, when they visit the vacation resort in Baja California, that they scatter the ashes and try to move past the grief of the loss. Along with his longing to feel Mexican again, Silverio also seems to yearn to return to his parents back in his native land, even though they are dead. In two instances in the film, the man converses with his father and mother separately, cherishing these dreamy chances as much as he can. He admits to his father that he would want to be as providing and caring for his own children as his father had been to him, and he discusses with his mother the song his father would lovingly sing to her.
‘Bardo’ Ending Explained: Is Silverio Gama Dead?
The incidents in the last thirty minutes or so of “Bardo” seem to provide a realistic explanation for the film if it is to be looked at in that manner. During their flight back to Los Angeles, Lorenzo tells his father how he had lost his pet axolotl salamanders, and Silverio seems sad that his son has experienced loss in his own way too. After reaching home, Silverio one day goes out to buy similar amphibians as a gift for Lorenzo and boards the metro train on his way home. Aboard this train, Silverio suffers a terrible stroke, as his visions distort, and he imagines scenes that are not true. Incidentally, this scene is shown twice in the film: once in the first half in an unconnected manner, and then when it actually happens. While the first time is shown from Silverio’s perspective of what he sees and seems similar to his often dream-like experiences, in the second time, it is revealed that the man is actually falling extremely sick. A metro rail worker finds the man in his condition at the very last station of the ride, and he immediately has to be rushed to the hospital. Silverio then enters a comatose state and is unable to recover from it any time soon. His family moves him back to Mexico, where his treatment continues, and his daughter Camila accepts the prestigious journalism award on his behalf from the stage in Los Angeles. All the events prior to this last half-hour can therefore be seen as Silverio’s own summation of his life, experiences, struggles, and self-conflicts inside his own mind, while his body remains stuck in a coma. This would perhaps explain all the abstract and unrelatable qualities of these scenes, for they were all taking place inside the heated mind of the suffering journalist.
In the end, Silverio is seen in a barren desert, which is a significant part of the landscape of Mexico, and his parents come to meet him there. His siblings and cousins also then appear at a distance, calling out to him with their varied demands from him. At last, appear his family members, Lucia, Camila, and Lorenzo, who call out to the man, asking him to return their way. But Silverio does not want to; he finally seems to have found his calling. As the family fades away, Silverio looks up to the sky, and the shot from the very beginning of the film returns, with the shadow of a man falling on the sand of a desert. Only this time, the shadow never grows big but gets smaller until it disappears, meaning that the man never lands and instead flies away. As is very obvious, the meaning of such a scene can only be derived from a personal understanding of it. This disappearance of the shadow, along with the fading of the family, can mean that Silverio passes away at the end, never being able to recover from the stroke and the coma. But if the world we have been seeing so far is to be considered a fictional place inside Silverio’s mind, then the disappearance of his shadow can also perhaps be interpreted as his leaving from such a state, therefore meaning that he wakes up from the coma and survives. Either way, “Bardo” can only be enjoyed or perceived in parts, in my opinion, owing to its extremely personal style and content and the many unexplained references to Latin American history, society, and culture that are easy to confuse unless one knows them well.
“Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths” is a 2022 Drama Satire film directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu.