So I guess no one wants to exit a theatre trying to sort out an emotional burden of their own susceptibility to grief and death, but why then did Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Biutiful make me feel so alive? It’s a story about powerlessness, economic despair, wretchedness, a broken family. The movie pounds the audience with reality, but it does not leave out the possibility that this tragic life is beautiful (elegantly misspelled “biutiful” by his daughter, Ana, played by the darling Hanaa Bouchaiib.)
This tragedy follows the lonesome travails of Uxbal (the inimitable Javier Bardem), who raises two children by himself, his estranged wife, Marambra, the enchanting Maricel Álvarez, the victim of bipolarity and drug addiction. Unlike the flighty Marambra, who is unaccountable for her actions, Uxbal puts his children first, and sees even cancer as just another obstacle for his family, whom he will protect relententlessly. Uxbal resists Marambra’s attempts to re-enter the children’s life, and it becomes apparent Uxbal, as in his other struggles, cannot control Marambra but merely cope with disappointing outcomes. A plot synopsis would probably read closer to a torture list, and the viewer must endure each devastating blow to Uxbal in an absolutely harrowing film experience.
And then, as Uxbal dies in his daughter’s bed, in one flash of light, all is redeemed. Returning to a snowy visage from the opening scene, Uxbal reunites with his dead father or dead father’s soul, appearing younger than Uxbal himself, having died fighting Franco when Uxbal was young. In life, Uxbal has not the time to even reflect on his hardships, it is only death that releases him to this quiet winter scene. His father was unobtainable in life, just as serenity and contentedness are incompatible with our tragic lives. It is all the pain Uxbal endures that cement his character, this criminal of counterfeits and sweatshops, who has no time for redemption in this life, but finds salvation in the battle itself. Not all heroes live to taste the spoils of victory, and in this life we can only count on the struggle and not the release of struggle. Like a dying owl spitting a hairball from its beak, we must live with uncomfortableness and disaster. The audience receives redemption along with Uxbal after 2 hours of unpleasantness, realizing that traumas and chrises measure our resolve. Suffering is not merely a gauge of our misfortunes, it is the only way to prove our heroics. And we will triumph. Bravery and honor are sure to come to those with the least, as all their troubles remove doubt of the determined beauty of our souls.