“History may not repeat itself but it does rhyme.” —Mark Twain
Embrace of the Serpent tells the story of the pilgrim’s journey down the Amazon River and into the Columbian jungle. The story is told twice, first in 1909 and then in 1940, and in both instances the pilgrim is looking for a rare and exotic plant that only one guide is capable of finding.
The first exhibition — based loosely on the diaries of the scientist who undertook this endeavor — finds Theo (Jan Bijvoet), a young, Dutch scientist and Karamakate (Nilbio Torres) as his Virgil. Theo is looking for a special plant, one that will cure his disease, and he recruits Karamakate to help him locate it. Karamakate is the last of his tribe and as they venture deeper into the jungle, we see why. Karamakate crosses paths with several other natives, some who have adopted the white man’s ways, the white man’s dress and the white man’s religion, all the while, taking the white man’s money. Some even seem to let the invaders take what they will without a fight. Karamakate is the last of his tribe, a proud man, and looks upon these sellouts with the same disgust that he looks at those who did the buying.
In the second trip, 30 years later, Karamakate (now played by Antonio Bolívar) is older and wiser, but while he still harbors resentment, he contains the wisdom of a life lived. His passenger (Brionne Davis) is an American explorer who wishes to take his trip down the river, the same as Theo before him, looking for the same plant, and receiving the same results.
Director Ciro Guerra films his adventure in dreamy black and white, capturing the beauty and stark hostility of the land that this shaman inhabits. An adventure into the heart of darkness that is as prophetic as it is hallucinatory.