21 April 2001 | Mayahuel
"In Haiti, there are secrets we keep even from ourselves..."
First I have to mention that while the book (The Serpent and the Rainbow by Wade Davis) is infinitely better and deeper than the movie that shares its name, comparing the two is unfair. The audience is informed that the movie was "inspired" by the content of the book, for whatever interpretation you give inspired. What makes the book more interesting, aside from it being a true documentary, is how it balances light and shadow in much the way the Vodoun religion balances both. This film may leave you thinking that Haiti is a horrible place filled with monsters and boogeymen, and I don't think that's a fair estimation.
The film confuses many things and ideas which I feel should have been explained. Not everyone is an ethnoreligionist, after all. Totems, houngans, hounfours, mambos, bokors, le Bon Dieu, and the Amazon shaman are just mentioned in passing as if this is everyday vocabulary to the audience. The character of Marielle is presented as a dedicant of the goddess (loa) Erzulie. Well, this is a nice touch, but what of Damballah and his consort Aida-Wedo--the original serpent and the rainbow? And what about the man dressed as a skeleton in an obvious tribute to Baron Samedi--yet the Baron is never mentioned. What really made me chuckle is how Alan's totem saves the end, a totem we had only seen in glimpses without the concept of a power animal ever being explained.
Through in the confusion of the collapse of the Duvalier government and we have the perfect recipe for movie mayhem. Oh, come on...you just knew the overthrow of Duvalier had to work itself in here somewhere, right? We must have the obligatory "I am an American citizen--you cannot touch me" scene when dealing with the so-called Third World.
Bill Pullman was entirely wrong as the protagonist. I just found it unbelievable that this man could find his way out of a Happy Meal box let alone 200 miles of Amazon rainforest. He is abrasive and unpolite, two things which are professional suicide for anybody dealing in international cultures. All right, one can allow for a certain degree of cynicism on his part, but I find it difficult to believe that a man of his caliber and academic background would be fool enough to shoot his mouth off as he does.
Watch this film with an acrostic eye. It isn't a bad film, in spite of the faults I personally found with it. Just watch it cautiously. If it whets your interest, definitely go check out the Davis book.