American naturalist Henry David Thoreau said that we don’t own things, but things own us. Human beings’ never-ending materialistic desires breed hostility among them. However, in this world, we cannot actually possess anything, not even people or any territory. Alejandra Márquez Abella’s third feature film, “Northern Skies Over Empty Space,” is set in the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León and tells a story about possession, courage, corruption, and cruelty. The story revolves around Don Reynaldo and his quest to safeguard his forefathers’ ranch.
Don Reynaldo (played by Gerardo Trejo Luna) was a greedy hunter and a patriarchal figure. In a little community in Nuevo Leon, he celebrated the anniversary of his ancestral farm. As the story progresses, it becomes evident that he is not only obsessed with his ancestral land but also views his entire family and servants as property to be owned. Reynaldo’s relationship with his maid, Rosa, illustrates the class disparity. Besides that, the story raises numerous concerns relating to people’s power of possession and prejudices in our society. So let us analyze the story to get all of the answers.
‘Northern Skies Over Empty Space’ Plot Summary: What Happened In The Film?
In the Nuevo Leon forests, Don Reynaldo had been repeatedly trying to hunt a deer but failed to shoot it because of his fading eyesight. Rosa, the maid, finally succeeded in shooting the deer using Don’s Winchester. When they returned to the ranch to celebrate the anniversary, Don took full credit for hunting the deer in front of everyone at the party without even thanking Rosa. On the other hand, Don’s brother Arnulfo forbade him to stay at the ranch.
Don believed Arnulfo was acting out of envy as Arnulfo could not hunt a deer, but Don did. Elias, Don’s son, who he didn’t get along with too well, arrived at the party. Don informed his friends at the gathering that he had received calls from strangers demanding money to stay at the ranch, but he did not take them seriously. Don Reynaldo called his family to stay over at the ranch house to celebrate Easter, but there was a huge problem with water that he did not bother to solve. All of Don’s relatives eventually made their way to the ranch house to celebrate Easter. A disease has already broken out among the cows in the surrounding areas. Cows begin to quiver and die. Arnulfo wanted to leave the area with his livestock because he was afraid of the current circumstances. Though Don wanted him to stay to celebrate Easter, Arnulfo didn’t change his mind. They argued over a Winchester that Don thought Arnulfo had taken, but Arnulfo strongly denied it. Don nonetheless decided to stay at his ranch. He had already observed Braulio, one of his servants, mingling with a group of criminals. He paid no attention to them at all because he wanted to relax and enjoy his time with his family.
The following morning, as his family ate lunch together, a car unexpectedly drove onto their property. Guzman (played by Raúl Briones), a goon, stepped from the car and informed Don that he and his men had been keeping their eyes on the ranch for so long that they were entitled to something in return. Guzman remained unsatisfied even when Don offered to give them their leftover food. Don understood that Guzman and his gang may have made threatening calls demanding the money. Don was terrified, as was his entire family.
On the ranch, an orange tree caught fire overnight. For Don, the presence of the tree was significant since his great-grandfather had planted it on the grave of a cougar that he had hunted. The members of Don’s family were so alarmed by these threats that they chose to return to Monterey, but Don didn’t want to leave his ranch house. Rosa and the others all remained there. Fearing a further threat, Reynaldo told his servant Tello that he had agreed to pay the criminals. Don Rey expressed his doubt that one of his employees, Braulio, might be working with criminals to extort money from him. The story further explores that Don Rey’s assumption was not wrong at all, but he did not identify the actual traitor. While Guzman returned to the ranch to get the money, Don Rey killed him instead of paying him. Rosa later revealed everything to Don, claiming that she was the one interacting with the bad folks, not Braulio. As the story unfolds, we learn Rosa’s motives, which show why she was compelled to deceive her master.
Why Did Rosa Betray Her Master?
Rosa (played by Paloma Petra) is a calm and introverted woman who exudes a sense of exhaustion from her demeanor. She grew up with Don’s other daughters, but she was never treated like a member of the family. She used to refer to Don as her father when she was a child, but as she grew up, she realized that things weren’t the same as they had been. She was treated like a mere servant due to the extreme disparity between their classes. She is first seen at the beginning, killing a deer for her master to save his image. But we see her lack of interest in taking credit for it, whereas Don gloated about taking the hunt that he did not deserve at all. Rosa had actually grown accustomed to her owner’s short-tempered behavior and arrogance. Instead of protesting, she accepted it, but in the end, Rosa turned out to be the one who was allegedly responsible for all the undesirable events that occurred at Don’s ranch.
The caretaker, Tello, and Rosa, loved one another and perhaps dreamed of starting a small family of their own. However, Guzman and his gang of criminals ultimately tormented their lives. Some of them thought the ranch was public property, so they entered the farm without any permission and assaulted Rosa. Rosa, as a result, fell pregnant but was unable to identify the true father of her child. Rosa’s tragic confession made it clear why she had been anxious all the time. Her face showed the effects of her emotional anguish. She said that she would abort the child, but she might not really want that to happen. She might have wanted to offer her child a life that she herself could never afford. She knew Tello couldn’t help her with the money, and she couldn’t even obtain any assistance from her egotistical boss. She, therefore, made a deal with the criminals to create a situation that would compel her boss to pay them substantial money. She even confessed at the end that she stole the Winchester from Don Rey. She didn’t make it clear why she had taken it, but it is assumed to be her act of revenge. Rosa never received any recognition for her efforts in looking after the ranch house or that particular deer hunt, which she did to save her boss’ image. Therefore, she perceived her anger as a form of revenge, which led her to choose the wrong way.
‘Northern Skies Over Empty Space’ Ending Explained: Why Did Don Want To Stay At The Ranch House? Why Did Rosa Come Back To Save Don?
In my opinion, the most intelligent member of the Reynaldo family was Don’s wife, Sofia (played by Dolores Heredia), who believed Don’s attitude of entitlement about the ranch was pointless. She claimed that the land was nothing more than a mesquite tree and some dust. She was trying to convey that this land would always exist even after the owners were no longer alive, so making any conflict over it was futile. She urged her husband to leave the area, but Don was adamant that he must continue to battle for his land to the very end. He thought that even though he might have failed the deer hunt, he wouldn’t give in to a group of thugs who appeared out of nowhere. It was his family’s land, and he would fight to protect it without any fear. Though the wise thing to do would have been to head back to the city as they would never receive assistance from the law in the jungle region of Nuevo Leon; nevertheless, Don was too daring and obstinate to do so. He eventually realized that the fight he was engaged in was unequal, but it was too late for him to back off. He murdered Guzman, which ignited the vengeance of the other bad people against him. Since there was no way out, he decided to breathe his last at the ranch. Don bravely attempted to fight off the group of criminals when they broke into his house, but there came Rosa, who arrived to protect him once again.
Rosa’s humanity subdued her sense of rage, and she went back to save her master for the last time. When “Northern Skies Over Empty Space” starts, Don and Rosa have a very formal relationship, but by that time, the relationship has changed. Don was not even angry with Rosa when she confessed her guilt to him. He asked her whether she had told anyone about the deer hunt, to which Rosa responded that she had not. Don Rey displayed his paternalism without feeling angry or seeking revenge. He understood that he had never given Rosa the respect she deserved, so he gave Rosa his Winchester as a gesture of gratitude for her never-ending service to his family.
Rosa returned to her master even when she had one last opportunity to flee. She put her life in danger to help her master since she felt responsible for all the struggles Don had to face. Last but not least, Don told her that she was a great shooter, which was presumably what Rosa wanted to hear from him. In her final hours, she received respect from her master, which made her feel complete. She fired her final shot but was killed by a gunman’s bullet.
What Did the Deer’s Smile Symbolize?
Don Reynaldo was carrying on his ancestors’ hunting tradition in the forests of a northern Mexican state. His attempts were ineffective because of his impaired vision, so Rosa ultimately fired one shot, killing the deer. At his ranch house, the taxidermized dead deer served as a decorative piece. Alezandra Marquez used this instance to highlight how precarious the lives of the poor wild animals were. Throughout the film, we observe the animals, from a turtle to a frog, who were strolling around the ranch, or a pig, who were waiting for their turn to get butchered, wanted to let us know that they, too, coexist with people in this world and that their existence isn’t so trivial that we can kill them for our own amusement.
We see the deer’s head hanging on the wall with a triumphant smile on her face when Don Rey eventually hides his back at home to save himself from the thugs. When the deer was alive, she might have spent her entire life defending herself from the predator every day; nevertheless, the moment she saw Don Rey and Rosa in such a victimized situation, she was relieved. The ‘hunt’ remains the ultimate focus of both the film’s opening and closing scenes, but in the end, the deer is happy as she witnesses that the hunters eventually become the prey.
Who Was the Ramos Family?
The Ramos family, whose name was frequently brought up by Arnulfo, is not elaborated on in “Northern Skies Over Empty Space,” but it may be inferred that they might have had the same threatening calls about ranch-related issues. The Ramos family might have suffered from their cows’ dying from any fatal ailment. As a result, Arnulfo was concerned that something similar would happen to him. Since in this land of corruption, it is reasonable to assume that the Ramos family may have been harassed by those evil goons who may have murdered the family or driven them away from the land.
Human life is transitory, and it wants to live by clinging to something of its own. Just as Don desired to live on his ancestral ranch and fight for it, his effort was futile because he was not fighting to save the land but to preserve his authority over it. All Don could gain in his life was Rosa’s altruistic love and emotional support, and that is all a human can attain in his lifetime. The movie “Northern Skies Over Empty Space” has a stunning visual presentation while telling a very true story. Although this movie has a strong western aesthetic, it presents a genuine story in an original way by focusing on the actual experiences of Alejo Garza Támez, a hunter and merchant from the state of North Mexico.
In the end, the question remains: who is the real owner of this land? Was it Reynaldo’s grandfather who killed a cougar and owned the land, or the gangsters who won the fight in the end? According to the “survival of the fittest” theory, only the fittest species can survive and reproduce in nature. Just like Reynaldo’s grandfather or the bunch of goons who had won a fight to gain the land, but eventually, they all perished. However, the land of the ranch remains forever, but the owner is no longer alive to claim it. This land was occupied by deer and some mosses that started their breeding. Finally, the poor creatures (deer) who were hunted at the start of “Northern Skies Over Empty Space” entered the ruins of the ranch house, proving that they were the fittest to remain intact in the fight for survival.
“Northern Skies Over Empty Space” is a 2022 Drama Crime film directed by Alejandra Márquez Abella.