I’m assuming that most people have had a chance by now to see Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, and that the plot and the events of the film are known to most. However, if you have not seen this brilliant work, you may not want to read further, because I’m here dealing with the film in ways that may give away too much to the uninitiated.
Shortly after I reviewed Y Tu Mamá También on its original release in 2001, a reader—a very proper-looking, immaculately dressed lady—came up to me and said, “I wanted to ask you about your review for Y Tu Mamá También.” Well, considering the content of this overtly sexual film, my immediate sense was that I was about to be accused of recommending pornography (it wouldn’t have been the first time, nor the last). To my surprise, what she wanted to know was my take on why the two main characters—Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna)—couldn’t stand being in each other’s company by the end of the film. I explained that my understanding of the film was that the pair had crossed a line of intimacy with each other that they were not prepared to deal with, and that rather than do so, they walked away from their friendship. She pondered this for a second and concluded, “It must be a guy thing.” And, all in all, I think she was right—especially in a society that’s based on very specific gender roles. It was with this in mind that I revisited Alfonso Cuarón’s film for purposes of this screening, and it still seems to me that this is what is at the bottom of the film’s theme.
There is, of course, a good deal more to the movie than this one aspect, touching as it does on the Mexican class structure. In truth, it’s impossible not to realize that the fact that the boys are from very different socio-economic backgrounds also figures into the ultimate dissolution of their friendship. But so much of what happens on their literal and figurative journey is grounded in their sexual camaraderie that this part of the film feels like the overriding concern. The film carefully lays this out starting with the famous diving board masturbation scene, and then progresses with the delineation of adolescent sexuality where it’s less the sex itself than it is talking about it—bragging about it, embellishing it—with a friend after the fact.
The film’s theme is very clearly presented, and while it’s a mystery (deliberate or not) to Julio and Tenoch, it’s also abundantly obvious that it’s no mystery at all to Luisa (Maribel Verdú), the older woman both of them are sexually attracted to. In one sense, yes, Luisa (who harbors a secret of her own) is initiating the pair into the realm of sex on something other than purely adolescent terms, but in another sense, she plays a different role. She provides the pair with a kind of subverted intimacy by allowing them to “share” the same woman, and then takes it one step further—the step that undoes their friendship. I’m always surprised when I read comments from people who are stunned and shocked by this further step. Watch the film again, and you’ll see that this is the point toward which Cuarón has been leading the film all along. It’s not a surprise; it’s inevitable—as is its “guy thing” aftermath.