Thursday, June 15, 2006

Question about The Lost City

I recently sent out an email to some friends about my literary experiment, The Lost City, A Continuation. I received a response from one of my friends who I haven't been in contact with for a while. He had a question that made me really start to think more deeply about the characters and why they were written the way they were. His question was simply this: Among all the women in Cuba that Fico could have picked, why his sister in-law? Although he hasn't seen the film he knew of the outline of the story well before the film came out. In fact, my friend asked Cabrera Infante, the author of the screenplay, about it before he died. He says Cabrera Infante went off on a tangent. Judging from the tone of his email, my friend is distressed about this aspect of the story. Upon reflection, I came up with some reasons Cabrera Infante may have chosen this story line. They are listed below in no particular order. I invite your additions to this list.

1. In the bible we learn about ancient traditions we no longer observe. One such tradition was that when a woman became a widow, especially if she was childless, the younger brother of the dead husband would marry her, take care of her and father children, etc.

"If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her." - Deuteronomy 25:5
Now Fico is the oldest of 3 brothers so it's not exactly like in the bible but I remember hearing or reading an interview with Andy Garcia where he said that the movie took so long to make that he became the older brother. He joked that if it had been delayed any more, that he'd have played the father. Now, I think he always intended to play the central role of Fico, but is it possible that in the original story Fico was the middle brother? [Update: When I posted the actual bible verse I noticed that there was nothing in it that alludes to being the younger or older brother. Merely that they are brothers that dwell together.]

2. Aurora is a metaphor for Cuba. A beautiful forbidden fruit, alluring and tantalizing yet destined to break your heart. Something so beautiful that it could not possibly last, too good to attain. The movie trailer has Dustin Hoffman's Meyer Lansky saying the following: "She was a beautiful thing... Havana. We should have known she was a heartbreaker." The pause makes the viewer think that he's talking about a woman, Aurora. Then he says Havana. I took it to mean both.

3. There's some very practical reasons for making Fico's love interest be his widowed sister in-law. For one thing we have to care about her and her husband. If it was just some widow, it wouldn't hit Fico so close to home when her husband dies. Secondly she tells Fico when she suspects that her husband, who is sneaking around, is having an affair. So Fico would have to be extremely close to Aurora and her husband for her to confide in him and for Luis, the husband, to tell Fico what the truth was, that he was an underground fighter. The fact is that Luis' death brought Fico and Aurora close together. Luis had to be, at the minimum, a very close friend of Fico's. But the overall story is about the different paths of the the 3 brothers. Kind of like the old Civil War archetype of "brother against brother". Ricardo was the radical follower, Luis was the more strategic leader, and Fico wanted not part in the Revolution. In the movie Fico loses Aurora to the Revolution. She falls for castro's promises. There's a very powerful scene in the film where Fico makes a toast to his brother "Luis Fellove who died for a free and democratic Cuba" in front of Fidel and Guevara. He is telling Fidel, not so subtly that, he doesn't believe a word of his bullshit. He says it for Aurora's sake, so that she can hopefully understand why he objects to the new regime. Again this scene would not have been as powerful if we weren't vested in the character of Luis. That vesting comes automatically in the film because he was Fico's brother.

4. I've heard Garcia mention many times that he wanted to make a film similar to Casablanca. I recently saw Casablanca again while I was on vacation. Rick Blaine's (Bogart's) love interest Ilse thought she was a widow when she met Rick in Paris. She had an affair with him only to learn that her husband was still alive. At the end of the movie she needs to choose between Rick and her husband Victor. She loves both. But she chooses Victor. It would have been wrong for her to pick Rick, even though the audience wishes there could be some way for the Rick to "get the girl." But in this way she is forbidden. She is off limits. If Aurora had in fact not been Fico's sister in-law, then there would have been no conflict. She would have been free to marry Fico. But the audience understands that this isn't right, even if we want Fico to "get the girl." In other words. Love is complicated.

5. Lastly, you don't choose who you fall in love with. It just happens. And perhaps Cabrera Infante was emphasizing this point. People don't think with their heads when it comes to love. Fico and Aurora fell in love, against reason in a whirlwind of personal and political upheaval. The fact that she's his sister in-law just adds another layer to the complexity.


benning said...

Any of those is sufficient reason. Why that would bother someone is beyond me.

Kira said...

I think Fico is in love with Aurora from the start. She asks him in the beginning "who are you saving yourself for"? He responds, "No one. All the good ones are taken (looking at her)." Then Luis says that the two have always had a special place in their heart for eachother (during his meeting with Fico at the cafe)

My take was that Fico loved her, and was unwilling to settle for anything less (although he would never dishonor his family by acting on it, until Luis dies)

Following the idea that Aurora was a metaphore for Cuba - like he was unwilling to settle for anyone less than her, then he was unwilling to wait for her while she explored her communist sympathies, he was also unwilling to compromise and stay in Cuba (he lost his home and Aurora to the revolution). Like he said to her in NY, "the price is too high." He remains an an individual to the end of the movie.

Looking forwad to reading you continuation, now! :-)