Where Is Home
If you haven’t watched Beatriz at Dinner and don’t want me to spoil the experience for you, you might want to stop reading now. My intention is not to write a movie review. I write this piece with the assumption that you’ve seen the movie and are familiar with the story and the characters. I need to write it because the pain and admiration for Beatriz —the woman on the screen—told me so much about myself.
Beatriz’s hands kneading people’s pain away evoked my own hands assisting someone in a corpse pose at the end of yoga. Her devotion to life in all its manifestations and her friendship with nature reminded me of what I strive for with my non-harming —minimized harming—consuming choices, including my vegan diet. The fact that we are both Latinas is secondary, albeit part of the whole connection with Salma Hayek’s character. Watching Beatriz —at the beginning of the movie— was like a warm, reassuring breeze for myself.
As the story progressed, I started to suffer, as I am au fait with my own inner critic. In my suffering, I learned I would not be as brave to maintain unpopular opinions amongst a powerful crowd, such as the one sitting with Beatriz for dinner. I would try to blend more. Much more. And I suffered for Beatriz because she seemed oblivious to the awkwardness of the situation. All this told me about belonging —or not belonging— as did her pet goat in her tiny apartment at the beginning of the movie.
Where is home, I was in pain. The movie was showing the accidental and tangential encounter of two worlds. In the world of power, Cathy, Beatriz’s only apparent ally, accepted her —the miracle worker— for helping cure her daughter from cancer. Beatriz’s healing did what conventional medicine couldn’t; Beatriz was able to remain in Cathy’s life as a token. Her participation in their lives was comme il faut as the healer, the worker of magic. However, for Cathy, at dinner, Beatriz, the whole human being with her voice and dress, was as appurtenant as what I thought of goats as pets in a tiny apartment.
The whole dinner was a parody of relatedness unfitting for Beatriz. I continued vicariously ashamed for her, even deeming exaggerated her response to Doug’s trophy hunting stories. All his abusive and predatory practices in life and business, including his leonino* contracts and his rhino trophy didn’t make me as uncomfortable. It made me upset, but not uncomfortable. I would not think of Doug as crazy; nor do I think Beatriz is, but her reactions made me uncomfortable and I would have a hard time if I had to argue for her sanity. This tells me a lot about our world; about the place where Doug and Beatriz find themselves.
Heroes in stories are on a quest that they achieve or not. Beatriz—our hero—longs for home; she even makes a couple of unanswered calls home to Mexico throughout the movie. On a recent conversation between Krista Tippett and author Junot Díaz, they talk about “the quintessential American narrative as the quest for home”, which is not only about shelter but also about love. In the space Beatriz shares with Doug she is a prisoner of her pain. She didn’t belong in that dinner. No matter how much healing she brought to that crowd, her existence was inconsequential to them. The gulf produced by entitlement and ethnocentrism was irreconcilable, despite tourists’ “Cancun state of mind” that mimics cultural connections.
Down in Altadena with the people she served, she had a place that offered the possibility of a home —if her longing ever allowed. In a way, a part of us as immigrants remains in the past; in the longing for the lost home we idealize as paradise. Beatriz drowns in homesickness and pain. But her freedom is in the liberating present moment that she doesn’t inhabit.
*Leonino is a Spanish term for the abusive contract. I include it because it flows with Doug’s story of his hunted rhino trophy, which could have very well been a rhino, where is home.