After his grandmother’s death, Mendel, a Mexican biologist (Tenoch Huerta Mejía) living in New York returns to his hometown in Michoacán, Mexico – a place with forests where the majestic monarch butterfly species migrates South. Mendel’s journey forces him to confront past traumas and reflect on his identity on a personal and spiritual level.
Director and writer Alexis Gambis explores the notion of territories on various levels, “from the vein of a butterfly wing to the border between countries”. The monarch butterfly species migrates from the northeastern United States and Canada to its ancestral wintering grounds in Mexico, making it a multi-national species, in a way.
Like the butterflies, Mendel returns to his childhood home. There, he must deal with mixed emotions about his past and his present lives. In a way, he needs to address his multiple identities. This is a topic completely relatable to many of us who have moved from our country of birth in search of better opportunities abroad.
He must also reconcile with his older brother who continues to live in Mexico. Their relationship is fractured since the death of their parents, and it is in need of healing.
Son of Monarchs moves seamlessly between present and past, between New York and Michoacán. It invites us to go along with Mendel on this journey and metamorphosis, so to speak. The use of allegorical imagery helps emphasize Mendel’s state of mind as a child and as an adult. Colours, landscapes, music and sound transport us through time and space. Kudos to director of photography Alejandro Mejía, production designer Sofía Guzmán, and sound designer Samuel Nacach.
I appreciate Huerta Mejía in this leading role. He has strong screen presence regardless of role, which is never a bad thing. The film also challenges the stereotype of a scientist by featuring a Latinx as the lead biologist, which helps to remind audiences that Latinx people hold various professions.
On a personal note, I am also appreciative of the exploration and need to reconcile multiple identities… a journey that someone like myself navigates every day.
The film also helps a puts a spotlight on the new technologies in genomics and molecular biology techniques, while also bringing to light the impact of deforestation on the monarch butterfly species.
Son of Monarchs is a multilayered film which brings to light many important and necessary themes. It leaves one with much to think about, and hopefully, it will lead to further discussions as well. The film had its International Premiere at the Sundance Film Festival today.