The film Y tu mamà tambien, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, provides an occasion to analyze how gendered and sexual subject formation inevitably unfolds within a context of global economic relations, on the one hand, and racialized colonial legacy, on the other. This seemingly innocent story of two boys discovering their sexuality while accompanying a dying Spanish woman on a cross-country jaunt is often dismissed by cultural critiques as Mexican cinema "lite", especially when contrasted with the first Mexican cross-over sensation Amores perros. However, I suggest that the film offers more radical insight into the formation of Mexican subjectivity and the possibility of representing subalternity within this subjectivity then its predecessor. This essay unfolds in two parts, with the first section considering the role colonial fantasy plays in the psychic formation of Mexican masculinity. Using a psychoanalytic approach, I explore how the Oedipal crisis is ambivalently resolved between the film's two young male protagonists, Julio (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), as they vie for the sexual attention of a substitute mother figure in Luisa (Maribel Verdú). The boys' homoerotic desire for each other is well accounted for by Freud in the Oedipal complex; however, the role of the mother-figure in this film augments the psychoanalytic script in interesting ways. Luisa, as the mother-substitute, is neither a member of the Mexican bourgeois, represented by Tenoch, nor of the striving middle class, represented by Julio. Either scenario might have placed Y tu mamà tambien within a predictable ambit of Mexican revolutionary or post-revolutionary nationalist film. Instead, the object of maternal desire is a beautiful, dying Spanish woman, thereby suggesting that the Oedipal crisis for these two boys unfolds against a lost ideal of maternity, that hidden Spanish character within Mexican mestizaje. The timing of this return to the colonial fantasy of Spanish nurturing of a narcissistic nationalism coincides with a moment of historical time in which Mexican national identity, and particularly its subaltern character, is threatened with extinction by free trade economics and the homogenizing force of capitalist expansion. Thus, the geography of Mexico is de-nationalized even as the boys re-stage and conflate colonial expansion and sexual possession in their travel narrative. This dispossession is registered in the film through a series of silences that hiccup through the narrative as interruption to the primary script. I consider how it is that director Alfonso Cuarón represents the unrepresentable through these "subaltern" silences. In the break of the dominant script from the formation of bourgeois masculinity, the subaltern aspects of Mexican character emerge as violent interruption at margins of the national script, and, as always, bracketed by silence. This marginal existence repeatedly forces its way into the dominant script of Mexican masculinity, only to be threatened with erasure, as the effects of NAFTA are registered in the disappearance of any viable economic alternatives for the indigenous elements of Mexican character. Nevertheless, a question remains concerning the film's own attachment to a lost ideal of subalternity: how is the script of the film melancholically re-living a nostalgic past of revolutionary nationalism in its heroic representation of Mexican peasant culture? It is my hope that this essay will make evident how the psychic formation of Mexican masculinity is racially codified, and necessarily dependent on an economic narrative as well.


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 751-777
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.