‘The Settlers’ Ending Explained & Film Summary: What Happened To Segundo And Rosa?


Felipe Galvez Haberle’s directorial debut, Los Colonos (The Settlers), is a fictional retelling of a barbaric chapter of 20th-century Chile. With its impactful storytelling, revisionist approach to the genre, and strong visuals, the director reminds its audience of a shameful past that must never be forgotten. The Settlers is expectedly violent and gruesome, and it is its rawness that makes it unsettling. 

It is only in the 21st century that the ones responsible for countless indigenous lives lost in the border area of Tierra del Fuego have been named. They faced no repercussions for conducting the genocide, and it is only now that their laudable reputation is questioned. In 1901, in Chile, Spanish businessman Jose Menendez appointed trusted Scotsman Alexander MacLennan to ensure that his 490,000 acres of land that stretched from Chile to Argentina were free of natives. Assisting MacLennan were an American cowboy, Bill, and a Chilean mestizo who worked at the sheep farm and was a decent shooter, Segundo. While the white men showed no remorse and found thrills in the hunt, Segundo was a lost sheep who struggled to decide where he belonged.

Why did Segundo join Alexander and Bill?

Segundo worked at Menendez’s sheep farm and was a witness to MacLennan’s torturous methods. The British army man was called the Lieutenant, even though later in the course of The Settlers, we find out that he lied about his rank and served the crown as a private. Jose Menendez was setting fences around his property to establish that the land belonged to him alone. He referred to the indigenous population as beasts who did not respect the fences and stole his animals to feed themselves. For centuries, the land belonged to the natives, and all of a sudden, men such as Menendez were forcefully trying to establish new rules of existence. Since the natives posed a threat to his business, he did not mind getting rid of them altogether.

MacLennan and Menendez shared the same hatred for the natives, making him the ideal candidate for “cleaning” his property. Segundo was selected to join MacLennan on the operation based on his demonstrated shooting skills. Menendez brought along an American man, Bill, whom he met in Mexico. He was known for having a nose for tracking down the natives, and the businessman believed he would be a useful addition. Bill candidly shared his hesitation about having a Chilean mestizo with them. He believed they were impossible to trust, and they needed to keep him in check.

Segundo tried to keep his head down and follow the orders of the white men. He was aware that he could be killed for making the slightest mistake, and he hoped to make it out alive. He dared to speak up when Bill mentioned how the natives were unable to comprehend the idea of private property. Segundo believed that, with a priest, their approach could have been more peaceful than the hostile method they had chosen. A priest could have helped the natives learn to adapt to the new rules, and the only resistance they would have faced was from the ones who already had a belief system they followed. MacLennan did not believe in a peaceful understanding; he thought it was necessary to simply eliminate. The three men rode on their horses for three days and ended up in Argentina, where Menandez’s land stretched, and their hunt for the natives continued. Segundo said very little, but he observed the cruel intentions of his companions throughout the journey. He was shocked and ashamed to be a part of the same group that was out to kill the natives, but he had no choice. The fear of ever having to shoot his own people haunted him at night, and when they noticed smoke from the woods, he knew that it was time.

How did Segundo cope with killing the natives?

Bill predicted that more than ten natives were living in the woods, and it was decided that they would shoot them dead at dawn. They silently approached their helpless victims with guns in their hands. Shots went off one after the other in rapid succession, and at that moment, Segundo wondered if it was time for him to shoot MacLennan and Bill dead. He was tired, angry, and frustrated, and only by killing them would he find a sense of victory, but then again, he was also afraid. Afraid of getting caught, tortured, and eventually killed, he was desperate to pull the trigger, but each time, he reminded himself that killing the white men was not an option for him. After shooting down each of their targets, the bodies were lined up one after the other. One of the native women was kept alive to be raped to death. Segundo was disgusted and he refused to participate, but MacLennan was not ready to take no for an answer. Forcing Segundo to participate in the torture was his way of living with his sins. Segundo reluctantly walked up to the victim, and to spare her from more torture, he choked her to death. He was broken from within for having to see through the injustice, but he knew no other way to keep on living.

How did Segundo meet Kiepja?

During their journey, the three men met Colonel Martin, who once served as the leader of the Royal Scots in the British Army but was now living at the end of the world after facing some bad fortune. Bill showed arrogance when he found out that Alexander MacLennan was not a lieutenant but a private, and he refused to pay him the same respect. While the Colonel did not object to the insults thrown at MacLennan, he was furious when Bill called him and the private Englishmen. He pulled out his gun and shot Bill dead for disrespecting Scottish men. The Colonel hoped for MacLennan to stay with him and his crew, but Alexander repeatedly stated that he was there on the orders of Menendez and that he had a job to do. Colonel Martin offered MacLennan an Onas woman, Kiepja, for the loss of Bill. But there was a catch: the Colonel did not forcefully invite the three men for a chat; he had other intentions. MacLennan submitted himself to the Colonel, knowing that they would not be allowed to leave if he did not comply. While the Colonel raped MacLennan, Segundo and Kiepja struck a bond. Kiepja trusted Segundo because he was not a white man, and through her experience, she had learned that white men abused women like her. She offered him a tool she crafted as a first sign of trust and suggested that they both find their way out of the ugly mess.

What challenge did Vicuna pose to Menendez? 

The film fast-forwards to seven years later when the National Party had come to power and social reforms had become the need of the hour. Men such as Menendez had to be answerable to government officials all of a sudden, and they found the entire ordeal humiliating. Menendez and his family were accused of conducting genocide on the indigenous population who lived in the area he took ownership of by government official Marcial Vicuna. Vicuna discussed how the government intended to better understand the mixed population of Chile, but Menendez believed that the people living in the capital would never be able to comprehend what he had to deal with in Tierra del Fuego. Menendez and his family did not think that they had committed a crime. They believed they did what they had to to protect their land.

Vicuna inquired about Alexander MacLennan, nicknamed “the red pig,” who had gained an ill reputation for the barbaric methods he used to torture and kill the natives. His stories made it to the tabloids as well, but Menendez did not shy away from showing his respect for his trusted man. Vicuna realized that the justification for their actions would continue to pour, and he went ahead and discussed the agreement the state had with Mapuche. He hoped for Menendez to respect the agreement and introduce him to the remaining Onas. Menendez was hesitant, knowing that the allegations would gain momentum if the natives started to speak up. Vicuna threatened to reconsider the land lease, and Don Jose had no choice but to obey his wish. 

Vicuna’s interest did not lie in helping the vulnerable population, but simply in creating a superficial image that the government was working towards progress, and for that, he needed the cooperation of men such as Menendez. He did not mind them retaining all their powers as long as the government could show that they were trying to do their best for the minority population.

How were Segundo and Rosa compensated for the trauma inflicted on them?

During The Settlers‘ ending, Vicuna met Segundo and Rosa Kiepja, who had now settled in their humble abode on Chiloe Island, built by the seaside. The two stuck to their plan of looking out for one another, and when all of a sudden, white men arrived at their doorstep, Rosa became defensive. She lied about Segundo not being at home, fearing that the men would cause them harm. Vicuna realized that Rosa had been lying all along when Segundo stepped out of their house. He invited himself to have a quick chat with the couple, and Rosa, fearing the worst, chose not to resist. Vicuna, accompanied by his assistant Laura, sat down with Rosa and Segundo to discuss the violent killings they had witnessed during their time with MacLennan. Rosa doubted their intention of recording the crimes after all these years, and Vicuna tried to win her trust. Segundo described his days spent with the lieutenant. He discussed how MacLennan had turned into a peace judge and ruthlessly murdered the natives. The image of the sea turning red with the blood of the natives remained vividly etched in Segundo’s mind.

Vicuna proposed that the couple pose for a video to help make their testimony more believable. They were dressed in his fresh blouse and shirt to look presentable and ‘civilized’ in the video. While Segundo continued with the pretense, Rose refused to participate in it. Vicuna scolded Rosa to sip the tea on camera, but she was fuming with rage, remembering all the hardship they had to live through and how, even now, they were merely a project for the white men. She doubted their motive; after all, colonizers never approached them for anything else apart from serving their own interests. To be considered a part of the nation, she was subjected to obeying the commands of the settlers, but she refused to lose her dignity again. To survive, she might as well have had to comply, and men such as Vicuna credited themselves for doing the bare minimum. The Settlers brings forth a chapter in history that had been conveniently buried for the longest time. The ending suggests that Rosa saw through the empty promises made by the government official. She and her tribe had been victims since the time the settlers arrived, and even with the modifications in governance, nothing would change in her life. 

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Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni Rudra
Srijoni has worked as a film researcher on a government-sponsored project and is currently employed as a film studies teacher at a private institute. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies. Film History and feminist reading of cinema are her areas of interest.

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