Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday's Transcendental Movie: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada is a highly acclaimed movie that spins trinities in parable and speaks of man's inhumanity to man and of the redemption in forgiveness.

The main trinity evolves with Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones's character) as the spiritual man, Melquiades Estrada as the mental man, and with Mike (Barry Pepper) as the mind-numb border patrolman.  They are spirit, mind, and body.  Mike is shown as being especially narcissitic, with a masturbating scene and another love-making scene with his beautiful wife which might as well have been masturbation.

Mike mindlessly shoots and kills Melquiades Estrada and buries him in an effort to cover up the crime.  The body is discovered and buried for the second time in the town cemetery.  The cover-up that occurs mimics a real incident of this nature upon which Guillermo Arriaga wrote his novel (upon which the movie is based).  Melquiades Estrada has thus been buried twice.   

The plot then is driven by the promise Perkins had made to Melquiades Estrada to see him buried in his own village.  Thus the movie becomes a tribute to William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which is driven by the same motive--with the same results.

The trinity then evolves.  It is present, past, and future; father, son, and holy ghost; for Melquiades Estrada is then the eternal past, shown only in flashback, while Norton and Perkins are the present and future.  Perkins, the surrogate father, is teaching Norton, the son, of his ties to the common humanity of things.  At one point, he drags Norton through a river, in symbolic ritual of baptism.  The closer they get to the third burial, the closer Norton and the ghost of Melquiades Estrada become until they are inseparable.

They never do find Estrada's actual village, but at this point of realization all villages are one and true forgiveness is universal.

Melissa Leo is excellent as a part of the Eternal Feminine trinity in the movie.  She followed this with Frozen River and The Fighter, for which she is nominated for an Academy Award.  Levon Helm played an excellent supporting part, just amazing.  And Dwight Yoakam was surprisingly good.   

The movie was well reviewed everywhere, but my favorite review of it was Roger Ebert's, at this link. Very early on, Ebert had pointed out the connection to William Faulkner and the high quality of the movie in general.  Famous novelist Stephen King, in Entertainment Weekly, said of the movie, "Tommy Lee Jones channels Cormac McCarthy...and it works."

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