Reel American HistoryHistory on trial Main Page

AboutFilmsFor StudentsFor TeachersBibliographyResources

Films >> Otra Conquista, La (The Other Conquest) (1998) >>

The spirit of a people can never be conquered.

View the trailer

The scene is the Spanish conquest of Mexico, just after the defeat of the Aztec empire by Hernan Cortes. We are familiar with the images of battle, but what happens the day after, asks writer and director Salvador Carrasco. How would an indigenous man faithful to his beliefs and traditions have reacted to the series of losses brought by the conquest? How literally witnessing the destruction of his beloved Mother Goddess could such a man have anything but disgust for her replacement, the Virgin Mary, the cause of his culture's erasure? The first reaction of Topiltzin, the codex-maker son of the departed Moctezuma, is indeed fierce resistance to accommodation, much less conversion: "I don't adapt," he growls, "I know who I am!" But his options are limited, his physical resistance fruitless: Topiltzin is captured, imprisoned, whipped, chained, and torched before he is turned over to Fray Diego, who makes conversion his life's mission. Thenceforward, Topiltzin is engaged in a different kind of struggle: "You can conquer my body, but my spirit . . . never!" he wails. With Tecuichpo, a half-sister who is Cortes's mistress and interpreter, Topiltzin engages in futile schemes to discredit Cortes before the King and to have a baby with Tecuichpo in order to insure the unpolluted survival of their race. Ultimately a virtually broken man, Topiltzin embarks on a personal crusade to conquer Her in whose name inconceivable things have been done. If he absorbs the Virgin's powers, if he fuses with her, redemption will follow. For Topiltzin now, to conquer is not to destroy but to appropriate the main symbol of his oppressors in order to regain what he has lost. This is the "other conquest," the reverse conquest, of the film's title, the conquest carried out by the indigenous people to appropriate European religious forms and make them their own. Not to be forgotten is Fray Diego's transformation as he witnesses, in fact presides over, Topiltzin's profound psychological turmoil. The story is truly the drama of one man's quest to adapt to a hostile, new world and another man's journey towards tolerance and understanding. In the final anaylsis, the film asks us to consider the ultimate meaning of the conquest: who converts whom?