“Beatriz at Dinner”
If you have caught this recent Salma Hayek movie, you know that it doesn’t turn out like the trailer coyly suggests.
The trailer leads us to believe that it is going to be a dinner party filled with witty banter, with Salma Hayek besting the racist rich guy, played by John Lithgow, whose smug smirk induces fantasies of Indian TV soaps-style face-slapping. Or maybe I just saw it that way because witty repartee with an undertone of emotional baggage is a genre that is timeless, and I cannot look away.
Salma Hayek plays Beatriz, who is a healer, working mostly with cancer patients. She comes from a background of heartbreak and loss in Mexico, and has made it her life’s work to use her gifts to heal the suffering she perceives around her. We can see that she is burned out even at the beginning of the movie. Her trashy, drunk neighbor objected to the bleating noises made by her goat, and slit its throat, and Beatriz breaks down every time she thinks of it. She keeps her dogs and remaining goat in her bedroom, shushing them when they make even a little noise, terrified she will lose the beings she loves.
This isn’t the usual Hollywood role played by Salma H. Beatriz wears only her work clothes through the whole movie, and we can feel how she carries everyone’s and her own pain around like a crippling sack of rocks. Bodies are just receptacles for the spirit in Beatriz’ world view, and she reaches into the heart of people with all her senses, reading who they are minus the shield of social chatter.
When Beatriz’ tincan car breaks down at a client’s fancy house, she is invited to stay for a dinner party until her friend can show up to help her repair it. Exhausted by her day, Beatriz drinks one too many glasses of wine, and, unable to switch off from healer mode, she becomes painfully over receptive to the toxic vibes being put out by the dinner guests.
There is no prettying up the way it dawns on the viewer that this is a political allegory. It has all the elements–the assured and sneering privilege of the racial majority, the sleek, bejeweled beauties who marry wealth and shut their eyes to the sins of their husbands (there is even a wannabe couple who is trying to break into these echelons, and the wife is the one treated the most courteously by her husband because they haven’t become rarefied enough for his morals to become so compromised, or for him to treat her like a trophy), the dismissive taunts directed at Beatriz about being Mexican, and the usual monied ridicule about ‘soft’ professions like hers that aren’t considered real careers.
I really truly do not want to spill all the plot. Beatriz accepts every wound, open to every vibe, and has no defenses against the bilge. It is painful to watch her be so sincere. When she fights back, it’s cringe inducing and has no impact anyway. Her way of seeing the world is too otherworldly and naive to the other guests, and everything comes hurling back to hurt her tenfold because she feels their reality–that they are truly remorseless, self serving people who take and take from the world, with no intention of paying it forward.
The pitiless message at the end probably preaches to the converted, but it is profound and awful. As it stands today, evil is ascendant and gloating, and it is soiling the energies of the true spiritual souls who give and give, and are expected to keep on submitting themselves to gleeful hate.
Many of us are attuned to the healthcare, special needs and disabled side of things, and I was thinking of how the threat of Medicaid cuts has impelled people to protest outside lawmakers’ offices in DC, and how they’ve been carried outside the building against their will by police. It is so easy to think of the disability community as ‘takers,’ but that is where the political allegory is so powerful. The movie doesn’t try to be fair or balanced. It stands on the side of diversity, equal rights, and the defenseless. And it doesn’t even embody a fighting spirit in the end. Rather, it shows that if powermongers keep pushing an evil agenda, humanity and the planet will eventually surrender the fight, and the privileged will probably party merrily to the sound of our death throes.
When there is no more ground left to fight for, even healers have nothing left with which to heal. We are already imperiled, every one of us. Those who are more vulnerable just stand in front of us to be cut down first. When we reach the front of the line and look into the selfish, smiling faces of our killers, it will be too late for enlightenment.
Beatriz at Dinner. Dir. Miguel Arteta. Perf. Salma Hayek, John Lithgow. Killer Films, Bron Studios, 2017. Theatre Screening.