What Does This Movie Mean? Fabián Bielinsky’s “The Aura” (2005)
Since it’s Friday, I’ll post another one of my quick movie interpretation blurbs. Spoilers follow; otherwise, enjoy.
Today, we visit the haunting wilderness of Patagonia. I expect Hollywood to do a remake of this one sometime in the next ten years. It will probably be set in Alaska.
Synopsis: The protagonist of this dark, haunting Argentinian thriller is a depressed taxidermist, Julio, who idly fantasizes about committing a perfect robbery. A friend convinces him to go on a hunting trip in a remote section of the Patagonian forest, where, a fight and a freak accident later, Julio inherits another man’s plan for knocking over a casino. Driven by a combination of morbid curiosity and, perhaps, a bizarre sense of obligation, Julio undertakes the robbery, with tragic consequences.
What it means: The protagonist’s epilepsy is the key to the movie’s central conceit. In an early scene, the viewer is shown, through Julio’s eyes, what a “perfect” robbery looks like. It’s choreographed in an almost surgical fashion, like a ballet. The slick, eminently calm robbers move with clockwork precision. Not a single head-turn, not a single blink is wasted. The robbery is successfully completed within minutes; no one is hurt. For the accomplices that Julio inherits from Dietrich, a well-executed robbery is important only as a means to an end; but for Julio, it’s an end in itself. Money is of secondary importance to him. His interest in designing and carrying out an elegant crime is almost sportsman-like. This fantasy of control is Julio’s response to his own illness. It represents his impossible longing for an ability to have everything go according to plan — understandable in a man who periodically succumbs to epileptic seizures at the most inopportune moments, with only a couple of seconds’ warning. Of course, in reality, none of us can control everything, and just as Julio finds himself at the mercy of his affliction, so do adventurers in real life find themselves at the mercy of forces beyond their control. For everyone living the life that Julio steps into, everyday existence is its own “aura” before one is rendered completely helpless — usually by another’s brutality.
Symbolic layer: Dietrich’s wife is named Diana. Diana is, of course, the ancient Roman goddess of the hunt. She is also the goddess of virginity and chastity, and one of only two Greco-Roman female deities who were conventionally depicted in the nude (the other being Venus). The pairing of hunting with virginity has always struck me as curious. Was it symbolic of the fact that engaging in such a bloody past-time requires a certain degree of moral innocence? We are told early on that Julio cannot bring himself to kill an animal. In any event, in Greco-Roman theology, to attempt to seduce Diana or take her by force is a mortal sin. Thus, Dietrich’s marriage to Diana is symbolic of his obsession with hunting, while his death is punishment for offending her. But she represents a danger for Julio as well. The scene in which he peers unthinkingly into her bedroom while she is undressing evokes the myth of Actaeon, a hunter who spied Diana bathing and was punished for it by being turned into a stag and torn to pieces by his own dogs.