You may not expect a film called Son of Monarchs to be about immigration, the climate crisis, or even genetics. Well, I’m here to tell you pointedly, your expectations are about to be shocked. Although it sounds cliche to say it, it’s about so much more than that. “Ultimately it’s a film about having an existential crisis. Not knowing who you are,” says the film’s writer and director Alexis Gambis.
Remezcla talked with Gambis about his film that first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. It went on to win the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize for the Venezuelan & French director.
The film stars Tenoch Huerta as Mendel, a Mexican biologist who leaves his quiet home in Michoacán in favor of a loud New York City in order to study the genes of monarch butterflies. Their color, design, and life cycles. But there is a country-wide size of depth to this story. Mendel returns home after the death of his grandmother and is forced to deal with childhood trauma and a sense of belonging. The film is pregnant with plotlines and has as many metaphors as colors on the butterfly’s wing.
“I was really captivated by the monarch butterfly because there were so many angles to the monarch butterfly. The fact that it migrates across multiple countries and it represents the migrant and the idea of not having borders,” says Gambis from his home in New York. “And with the monarch butterfly being borderless while having multiple identities and nationalities while at the same time being endangered because of deforestation, because of pesticides, because of climate change. That is what drew me to the monarchs.”
The subject is also enough to draw the film’s lead actor. “He was so interested in the idea of playing a scientist. He told me about his obsession with evolution. He even spoke to me about genetic technology,” Gambis recalls about working with Huerta.
“I think that there is something to be said that these actors are thirsty for these types of films,” he says. “Son of Monarchs certainly is a far cry from Narcos and the upcoming Black Panther 2 where Huerta is the antihero.
“They have the scientific curiosity and at the same time, it carries all the spirituality with them. The monarchs represent the souls of our ancestors. They arrive on the day of the dead,” says Gambis. That’s no doubt why HBO Max chose November 2nd, Dia de Los Muertas, as the day to premiere the film.
Son of Monarchs is a quiet film that demands patience. The film communicates many messages in its viewing without screaming their presence or intent. It is beautiful in its execution allowing the audience to take what it will from the film.
“Everything else, the political, the social, the science, those are all things that are there [in the movie]. But ultimately it’s about someone trying to figure out who they are. And hopefully, you are left with the feeling in the end that he belongs to all of these things, not just one,” says Gambis.