The Unicorn Scale: Y Tu Mamá También
May 18, 2020
Photo credit: Image/20th Century Fox
Sigmund Freud, the founding father of psychoanalysis, advocated the reality of bisexuality. In his words,
It is well known that at all times there have been, as there still are, human beings who can take as their sexual objects persons of either sex without the one trend interfering with the other. We call these people bisexual and accept the fact of their existence without wondering much at it.
Despite being validated by one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, society rarely recognizes bisexuality or takes it seriously. However, there are moments when art does justice in acknowledging sexual fluidity. Alfonso Cuarón's groundbreaking film, Y Tu Mamá También (2001), does this and much more.
By combining several genres — drama, comedy, romance, and politics — in an effortless way, Cuarón managed to create a coming-of-age movie that avoids cliché. Y Tu Mamá También is a Mexican road film that focuses on the story of two teenagers, Julio (Gael García Bernal) and Tenoch (Diego Luna), who end up taking a life-altering trip with a woman named Luisa (Maribel Verdú). Julio and Tenoch are best friends who share a very close bond. They meet Luisa at a wedding, and her beauty instantly draws in the two young men.
Julio and Tenoch invite Luisa on a trip to the beach since their girlfriends took a vacation to Italy; she declines the offer initially but later takes up their proposal after her husband confesses that he's been having an affair. The three then embark on a journey of love, betrayal, and sexual experimentation.
Y Tu Mamá También touches on important themes such as classism, sexism, sexual agency, and globalization. However, the film weaves these topics in a way that offers a rich and nuanced story that symbolically intertwines the themes together during a passionate bi sex scene between the three main characters. Cuarón's film is widely considered a staple in the world of cinema and has been lauded by critics for pushing the envelope in both the arthouse and commercial arena.
There are SPOILERS ahead. If you need a reminder of how the Unicorn Scale works, here's a quick reminder.
What I Liked:
One of the most significant aspects of Y Tu Mamá También is the relationship between Julio and Tenoch. Movie screens rarely depict the kind of friendship that they share, which is ironic because it's arguably the most common relationship that exists between men: a loving tug-of-war friendship that balances heterosexual competitiveness with the homoerotic. The opening scenes show the two young men having sex with their respective girlfriends. The aforementioned establishes Julio and Tenoch’s heterosexual leanings, which is amplified by their homophobic language and braggadocious attitudes towards the opposite sex throughout the film.
However, the director does an astounding job of foreshadowing their bisexuality long before the film reaches its climax. There is a shower scene where Tenoch makes fun of Julio’s penis after staring at it for a lengthy period. The film takes this homoeroticism a step further when the two friends are masturbating together as they describe women that they find attractive.
Y Tu Mamá También also does a remarkable job hinting at Julio and Tenoch's bisexuality through their relationships with women. Their mutual lust for Luisa leads to a bitter competition between the two friends. Julio becomes jealous when he witnesses Tenoch and Luisa having sex. Out of spite, Julio admits that he slept with Tenoch’s girlfriend in the past. Luisa notices the rift between them, so she decides to have sex with Julio to balance things out. Things only get worse because Tenoch confesses to having slept with Julio’s girlfriend behind his back as well. A sense of betrayal on both ends sparks an intense argument between the two characters. They trade bitter words that include derogatory comments towards their respective social classes.
However, Luisa sees their anger for what it truly is: infantile patriarchy mixed with fragile egos. She condemns Julio and Tenoch for their behavior and drops a prophetic statement before storming off. She says, "Typical men! Fighting like dogs and marking their territory. What you really want is to fuck each other, that's what you really want!"
The climax of the film comes when the three characters are drinking at a bar in an intoxicated scene filled with silly laughs, confessions, and absolution. Luisa, Julio, and Tenoch end up dancing together in an intimate manner that announces what's about to happen next. The scene cuts to the moment when they engage in a threesome, ending the clip with a close-up of Julio and Tenoch passionately kissing. To write this moment off as a stereotypical depiction of bisexuality is inaccurate because it holds a plethora of powerful implications.
Their sexual bonding symbolizes numerous things; Luisa's sexual liberation and deviation away from a toxic marriage, Julio and Tenoch's brotherly bond moving beyond hypermasculinity, and love regardless of socioeconomic class all culminate at the moment the three characters have sex. Y Tu Mamá También creates a majestic artistic statement using bisexuality as its vehicle.
What I Didn't Like:
Although there isn't anything in particular that I encounter wrong in the film, I can imagine what others might dislike. There are minor things that people might find issues with about Y Tu Mamá También, but changing those aspects would severely weaken the movie. Some audiences might be puzzled about why the friendship between Julio and Tenoch faded away after the final sex scene, or the director's decision to have Luisa's character die from cancer. The unfortunate fate of the characters was necessary for the film to remain authentic.
No one wants a sad ending, but ending the film on a happy note would not do Y Tu Mamá También justice. Julio and Tenoch's separation and Luisa's death are as significant as the moment the three characters lost their inhibitions when they all slept together. Luisa achieved sexual agency and happiness before she died. Julio and Tenoch experienced freedom and the pinnacle of male bonding before conforming to societal expectations of manhood. Therefore, Y Tu Mamá También gave the audience what it needed by giving them what they do not like: a tragic ending.
Alfonso Cuarón's Y Tu Mamá También is a film that continues to transcend time. It's a stunning picture that gives us a coming-of-age story loaded with rich characters, a strong narrative, and marvelous cinematography. A nuanced but vigorous bisexual element is present throughout the film, which helps Y Tu Mamá También explore issues of sexuality, classism, and manhood during a pivotal time of Mexican politics. Alfonso Cuarón's work deserves four unicorns.