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

Subconscious Truth

By Olga Zhakova, with comment by Kelsey Cannon

[1] The scene in which Topiltzin is having hallucinations is one of the key scenes in the film since it relates directly to the core issue of the relationship between two cultures and two religions, represented by the Virgin Mary and the Mother Goddess. Throughout this three-part scene (Topiltzin as torture victim, child-bearer, and Aztec high priest), the director shows us the melding of two cultures and religions into one true religion that lies in the people’s hearts and unites everyone.

[2] The scene starts with Capitan Cristobal preparing to burn a cross symbol on Topiltzin’s skin. Topiltzin closes his eyes in anguished anticipation, and the next shot is the Virgin Mary descending to him from above in the stream of light. This transition shows the meaning and significance of the Virgin Mary to Topiltzin -- she comes to him as a savior when he is about to experience the pain of forced conversion symbolized by the red-hot brand.

[3] In the second section of this scene, the viewer sees a close-up of the statue of the Virgin Mary holding a baby, which then falls into Topiltzin’s arms. The baby, now alive, represents the child Topiltzin and Tecuichpo are going to have in order to save their culture -- but this child is the result of the Spanish oppression and mixture of two cultures, which is the reason why it is given to Topiltzin by the Virgin Mary. This baby now encompasses both religions and thus creates the true religion that is above all the differences and divisions and unites everyone. I should mention here that in his DVD commentary director and writer Salvador Carrasco gives a different interpretation of the baby: “He [Topiltzin] dismisses Cristobal’s violence and welcomes the Virgin Mary, who entrusts her own baby to Topiltzin’s protection. Maybe the Indian will be the true depository of Christianity in the way he relates to the Virgin -- a direct, selfless, giving way.” My perception of this part of the scene and Carrasco’s are essentially the same, the only difference being that Carrasco names Christianity as the true religion while I see this true common religion without name since it includes everybody without division. (see comment by Kelsey Cannon)

[4] Now, in the third part of the scene, the viewer senses two Topiltzins looking at each other: the first one is holding the baby while the second one has his face painted preparing to sacrifice the Virgin Mary. Thus the director shows that a change has taken place in Topiltzin: he is no longer the person he used to be. This new Topiltzin influences the old one, making it impossible for the latter to sacrifice the Virgin Mary. As Carrasco mentions while commenting on this scene, Topiltzin is surrounded by “all the significant women in his life.” This shot of sacrificing the Virgin Mary reminds us of the beginning of the movie (and thus the pre-conquest Topiltzin), at which point the Aztecs are committing their ritual sacrifice. But, as I said, something has changed now. Topitzin cannot commit the sacrifice. Holding the dagger above the statue of the Virgin Mary, he turns his head and sees the severe face of Tecuichpo, who undoubtedly disapproves this sacrifice -- it seems that she is trying to say that if he kills the Virgin Mary, he is going to kill their baby (who represents the Aztec culture and beliefs under the new circumstances) and their new image of the Mother Goddess. Such perception is strengthened by the fact that Tecuichpo is the only one who holds both of her hands on her stomach -- just like pregnant women do. Topiltzin is trying to put a knife in the statue of the Virgin Mary but something prevents him. Then the viewer sees the Virgin Mary transforming into the Mother Goddess. Toplitzin lets the dagger down and looks right into the camera. He doesn’t convert to Christianity, but he absorbs it, and, as a result, it melds with his beliefs into something new, something that is bigger than a separate religion, something that unites everyone.

[5] The fourth and last shot of the scene is the vivid picture of an orange sun, one we’ve seen several times before, which signifies for me an analogy with the central theme of the film: the sun is one for all as well as God is one for all. As Friar Diego will say later: “God of all.” In his DVD commentary Carrasco gives a more sophisticated explanation of this shot, saying that the sun symbolizes the Aztec’s Sun God that is “there to witness his [Topiltzin’s] change of heart.”

[6] It is important to note that in the following scene Topiltzin says to Friar Diego: “You and I, deep inside, share the same belief, Friar Diego, even though we come from different worlds.” His words prove that the Virgin Mary became the Mother Goddess to him, that the essence of the Christian religion is the same as the Aztec religion. Now his Mother Goddess has a different image and encompasses Christianity as the one world’s belief. In this regard, Carrasco says that the second conquest is “the conquest carried out by the indigenous people, who appropriated European religious forms and made them their own.”

[7] I find the key moment in this scene to be the interaction between the new Topiltzin and the old one. Topiltzin is no longer the same. Christianity changed him. But he didn’t betray his Aztec beliefs and convert into Christianity, as you might expect. Instead, he absorbed the essence of Christianity, making his beliefs even stronger because everything is one (“God of all”). That is why Topiltzin cannot kill the Virgin Mary. She is already part of him, part of his old but transformed beliefs. That is why Tecuichpo doesn’t want the sacrifice of the Virgin Mary -- because they are going to have a child who is the result of the merger of Christianity and Aztec culture (as it was the Spanish invasion that led to this child). Carrasco says: “People always ask these questions: Was [Topiltzin] really converted or was he just pretending? Did he embrace the Virgin as the Virgin or did he just recover his own Aztec mother goddess?” I think what happened is that in Topiltzin these two realities merged: he didn’t convert to Christianity, but at the same time he embraced it, thus transforming his beliefs into something new reflected in Friar Diego’s words that God is the God of all.

[8] So this scene, which shows the melding of two religions into a higher level one, has a crucial meaning to the entire film since The Other Conquest is devoted to the interactions between different cultures, religions, beliefs, and the ways people treat these differences. As Carrasco says, “Topiltzin and Friar Diego were really talking about the same thing. But unfortunately, we kill one another because we call our beliefs by different names.”

[9] We see through this scene that Topiltzin understands this main idea that his religion and Christianity are basically one thing, and this understanding puts him above everyone. That’s why we see in the next scene that Topiltzin says to Friar Diego that they share the same belief. Friar Diego is also going to understand this; he might even know it all the way through somewhere deep inside. Thus, this understanding that everybody has the same God and that people should just try to talk to each other and see the essence behind the words is crucial for the film. “The tragedy of one culture trying to impose its beliefs on another one,” says Carrasco, is “that in doing so we pass value judgment on otherness rather than respect and learn from it and often miss that it's more what unites us than what separates us.”


Kelsey Cannon 2/14/12

It's interesting that Olga's interpretation contrasts the director's in this instance; typically, we'd defer to the director on the authority of the interpretation of a scene, given that he/she created it in the first place. However, on this matter, I have to agree with Olga. To limit the "true religion," as she puts it, to Christianity at the exclusion of the native Aztec religion is remiss -- the Aztec culture is clearly still such a strong part of Topiltzin, evidenced by his continual flashbacks to the face of the Mother Goddess statue. The parallels between the statue of the Virgin Mary and the statue of the Mother Goddess indicate that the two religions exist both with and in spite of each other, and in this particular scene they begin to mix -- the lines that once separated them are now blurred. It's difficult to tell which religion still captivates the heart of Topiltzin, since elements of both invade his psyche during his hallucinations; consequently, this situation seems to be an illustration of the marrying of two religions rather than the yielding of one to another.