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

Sex as the Other Conquest

By Morgan Christopher

[1] The Other Conquest begins in 1520, but much of the film takes place between 1526 and 1531. At this point, Hernando Cortes has already physically defeated the Aztec people with brute military forced and advanced weaponry. Now it is time to spread religion and force assimilation to Spanish culture. Writer and director Salvador Carrasco defines the other conquest as "the conquest carried out by the indigenous people, who appropriated European religious forms and made them their own. . . . That reverse conquest is embodied in Topiltzin's melding of the Aztec Mother Goddess with the Catholic Virgin Mary and in his Christlike self-sacrifice, which makes him transcend his enemies" (176). The reverse conquest is not only seen through religion but through sexual relationships as well. Tecuichpo is the only central female character in the film. Though for survival purposes she has culturally assimilated and become Cortes's mistress, she is still loyal to her Aztec traditions. Cortes is determined to completely conquer her, which includes treating her like a wife and having children. Conversely, Topiltzin is interested in procreating with Tecuichpo as well, in order to preserve Aztec bloodlines. While religion and language are both important elements of overpowering other cultures, The Other Conquest illustrates that sexual conquest and reproduction is the greatest insurance to either side's success. The natives' ability to continue procreation is their best chance at survival. Conversely, if the foreign, dominating people reproduce with the natives, it guarantees the eventual total assimilation and/or eradication desired by the conquering nation.

Cortes's Final Conquest

[2] The first sex scene is between Cortes and Tecuichpo. It begins with her standing alone in a dimly lit room admiring the headdress of her father Moctezuma on display. As she reaches out nostalgically to touch it, Cortes approaches from behind and places a heavy gold necklace around her. As he clasps it on, rubbing his head against hers, he says, "Were I this gold necklace so that I could live between your breasts, Dona Isabel. Honor me by wearing it at the conversion of your brother Tomás, a great Christian occasion for me." She appropriately responds by thanking him, but does not look at him. As she walks away he rips off the beaded necklace she had been wearing. Though his gift could be seen as an act of love, it is closer to an owner putting a collar on a new dog. If he truly loves her, he would allow her to keep a piece of who she is. By ripping off her old necklace, he is tagging her as his property, as Spain's property. Cortes then accuses her of lying about Topiltzin's lineage in order to save him. Tecuichpo rebukes the accusation, explaining that Topiltzin's mother was her father's favorite mistress. Cortes quickly responds, "As you are mine," and aggressively rips off her shirt. Her body tenses, yet she remains withdrawn. She says no, using Topiltzin's presence as a reason to abstain. Tecuichpo claims seeing him has been difficult: "his eyes remind me of my husband Prince Cuauhtémoc, whom you killed for no reason!" Her comment ignites Cortes's temper. He pushes himself on top of her and violently raises her skirt. Simultaneously he yells, "What more do you want from me? I left Malinche for you. I've given you the light of the true God and part of my kingdom! What else do you want from me? That I gave up everything and became the scapegoat for your people's disgrace?"

[3] Based on Cortes's statements, it is arguable that he is sincerely upset that she does not love him, but it is vital to remember he is raping her during his speech. He is upset because she has not graciously given her body in exchange for getting rid of another woman, giving her land, and religion. Tecuichpo never looks at Cortes before or during coitus, except for when she talks about her husband's murder. While her facial expression is that of someone frightened, her eyes are vacant. Rape has been a part of war and conquest since the first civilizations. However, this instance is interesting because while Cortes is using sex as a weapon, an excursion of power, he has made her a Dona and given her land. This indicates he intends to create some kind of publicly recognized union even though they are not married. This takes sexual conquest a step further, because all children conceived by Cortes and Tecuichpo would be raised Spanish and most likely expected to marry Spanish. This would eradicate the Aztecs who survived battle through the dilution of their bloodlines, eventually making their lineage untraceable. The Aztecs are not oblivious to this tactic, which is why they employ the opposite tactic and have sex to protect their race.

"Making Love in the Monastery"

[4] The second and only other sex scene in the movie features Tecuichpo and Topiltzin. Friar Diego is in his room examining Cortes's stolen nameplate. He hears whispering and leaves his room, searching for the voices. Finally he finds himself at a large wooden door and recognizes the voices of Topiltzin and Tecuichpo behind it. The camera then pans into the dark. Slow, heavy breathing and indistinguishable words are audible. Then dark, naked silhouettes of a man and woman come into focus. They are contrasted against a bright orange and red light created by a candle. Tecuichpo and Topiltzin kneel, facing one another, gently touching the others' bodies. Their positioning strongly contrasts that of Cortes and Tecuichpo's sexual encounter. They are kneeling, as if they are about to pray. This shows respect and equality between the two, unlike Cortes on top of Tecuichpo, asserting his dominance.

[5] Also, unlike with Cortes, Tecuichpo looks at Topiltzin and reassuringly states, "We are made of one piece," and then she positions herself on top of him. As they make love, Topiltzin whispers, "Tecuichpo, the survival of our blood depends on us." While the scene does not feel sexually charged like Tecuichpo and Cortes's scene, Topiltzin and Tecuichpo experience intimacy. Though Tecuichpo does not appear any more romantically interested in Topiltzin than Cortes (which is obvious when he tries to kiss her and she tilts her head away from his), there is an act of love happening: love for their people and pride in their heritage. Tecuichpo is the vessel that will determine or at least foreshadow what will happen in the future. If she has Cortes's child, that child would represent another successful form of conquest, but a child fathered by Topiltzan would represent hope for the Aztec people.

Her Body, Her Blood

[6] Finally, there is Tecuichpo's last scene in the film (1:07:32). She is imprisoned for forging Cortes's signature; however, he remains ignorant of her tryst with Topiltzin, therefore unsuspecting that the child in her womb is possibly not his. The scene opens with Cortes and another woman, who appears Spanish based on her fair skin. He politely excuses himself in order to visit Tecuichpo in jail. Though angry, he expresses the pain caused by her unreciprocated feelings: "Nevermore shall you risk my honor before the King of Spain, before yourself . . . or anyone else. Just bury my honor along with our child painful love of mine." She responds in her indigenous language, "My lord, my unending sorrow, you can harm me no more. This is my body, this is my blood." She then switches to Spanish, "Make my blood flow if you must, it will not be in vain." Cortes responds, "Why did you never let me reach you, Tecuichpo?" Cortes hugs and holds her as if giving her one more chance to accept the relationship. His words and actions are incongruent.

[7] This is the most genuine Cortes has seemed throughout the entire film, but his previous actions cannot be forgotten. This one act of sincerity does not overshadow the rape that took place earlier in the film. He is more upset about failing in his most challenging endeavor as a conquistador -- conquering a woman. His persistence is driven by the joy of the chase, which is appealing to most men, nothing more. The more unattainable something becomes the more one desires it. That element of human nature defines Cortes's feelings for Tecuichpo. She does not reciprocate the embrace but simply states, "The child I'm carrying is not yours, Don Hernando." He pulls away and stares -- hurt and confused. Tecuichpo speaks her final lines, "This is my body, this is my blood." Though Tecuichpo kills herself, which we learn two scenes later, the implications of her actions become more important than the literal acts. After admitting to having an affair, Tecuichpo sealed death as her fate because Cortes certainly would have awarded her that sentence. By taking her own life, she continues to maintain control and ownership over her body.

Sex Providing Hope

[8] For those who survived the Cortes military campaign, there was no choice but to culturally adapt or die. Eat, drink, dress, and speak like the Spanish. Renounce the Mother Goddess and get baptized, or face execution. The only avenue of autonomy the natives could attempt to preserve is what they do with their bodies. Unfortunately, Cortes saw sexual dominance as the final frontier in regard to conquest. Though there are only two sex scenes, sex is a driving force in the film. It is the catalyst for the central characters' actions for the latter part of the film. For example, Friar Diego does not tell Cortes about the stolen nameplate until after he catches Tecuichpo and Topiltzin having sex. Also, though he had visions and/or episodes beforehand, Topiltzin does not truly lose his sense of reality until after learns Tecuichpo kills herself. Cortes, in fact, is no longer an active part of the film after he fails in his last attempt to "conquer" Tecuichpo. Religion and language are both important elements of overpowering other cultures, but The Other Conquest illustrates that sexual conquering is the hardest to attain but has the potential to be the most rewarding and equally devastating. Tecuichpo's death results in the loss of the child that adds another element of uncertainty to the film's ending. How successful will Cortes be concerning the assimilation of the Aztec people, and how long if at all will the Aztecs survive?

Carrasco, Salvador. "The Invisible Sight." The Zapatista Reader. Ed. Tom Hayden. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2002.