There’s something to fall head-over-heels for about daring reimaginations of formidable classics—the deceitfully “simpler” the source, the more pressure on the adaptation to bring out its colors. Isn’t it practically an inexplicable branch of evolution that even those of us not thoroughly familiar with Georges Bizet’s opera and Prosper Mérrimée’s prose of the same name can immediately associate the name Carmen with the color red? Red is what Jörg Widmer smears on each of his symbolism-soaked frames that speak the unspoken about the nymph-like poem manifested as an immigrant woman. And for the faithful portrayal of the odd fairytale lover worthy of beholding her with the eyes that betray his pain, Benjamin Millepied entrusts the reins to Nicholas Britell’s haunting score, which is as much a protagonist as Carmen and Aiden.
Plot Synopsis: What Happens In The Film?
Millepied’s relatively less tumultuous take on the French opera takes a minute to set the stage for the fever-dream romance that is to follow. What comes first is a backstory for the fiery Mexican woman keeping an eye on the border to make a run for the city of angels. It is fervently laid out by the fierce taps of her mother’s indomitable feet as she holds the fort with flamenco. Each tap on the wood translates into a gong, warning against the exploitative march of men. And when the predators do arrive, Zilah’s blood rains over the parched desert. She doesn’t mind. So long as it allows “her heart,” her beloved Carmen, smears Zilah’s history on her forehead and makes her way to “her spine,” Masilda, Zilah would die a thousand deaths. It is as though the desert scribbles its own wishful predictions for Carmen and the man who’s about to guide her northbound journey when a Molotov cocktail scorches her house and a random sculpture catches on fire before Aiden’s eyes. And before you know it, the scarred war veteran with a profound heart is saving Carmen from his trigger-happy white supremacist border patrol buddy Mike. A near-identical recreation of a No Country For Old Men-esque aftermath sets the grim tone for the tempestuous journey Aiden and Carmen are making to LA.
How Do Carmen And Aiden Get Closer?
Carmen is recurrently heavy with cryptic symbolism not too casually dropped here and there as we follow the two love-starved children of the desert on their path to self-discovery. The paths that were strategically intertwined with the blessings of the flames come together to form a spiritual maze of sorts. A maze where Aiden’s seamless integration into Carmen’s rich, ancestral reverberations comes in overwhelming yet mindful phases of ascension. Oscillating spirits of fire and dance—everything that defines Carmen and the formidable women she’s the sole successor to—materialize out of thin air to bless her path.
As though foretold, their path to the city of hopes and dreams is marked by the sounds of Masilda’s voice, while the allure of the sand that denotes Carmen’s soul-searching pulls Aiden in deeper and deeper. There’s almost a predestined spontaneity to every point of escalation between them. Just as randomly as she calls him her man is just how impulsively he embraces her and blindly follows her to Masilda’s den. Love furtively tiptoes into their dynamic, and like the prophetic sand and fire, Aiden’s most naked introspections take place quite metaphorically and only around the one whose raw, spiritual aura propels its pace. Daunting visions of his reflection helplessly severed into countless pieces only relent when he’s whole in the picture frame that holds the memory of Zilah and Masilda. At this point, Carmen is as essential to his semi-lucid days as she is to his very instinct for survival.
Is Aiden Dead Or Alive?
What would’ve been a candidly prosaic narrative of an odd chance meeting and a subsequent Bonnie and Clyde romance gets a bewildering makeover of mystique in Millepied’s musical. The rush of the cat-and-mouse chase between the cops and an illegal immigrant on the run with a fugitive pales in comparison to the overwhelming passage to self-discovery that Masilda’s nightclub provides for Carmen and Aiden. The moment Masilda’s kohl-clad eyes recognized the fire in those of Carmen, it was as though she’d been holding her breath for all this time, awaiting the day her soul-sister’s beloved daughter would grace the nightclub that they’d built with hope and love.
It’s there that the upsurging manifestations of her history, her identity, and all of her unresolved emotions culminate through the tranquil movements of her body. Through the eyes of the director, who is fluent in the expressions of ballet, the emotionally vibrant sequences of dance and evocative music go beyond their usual purpose of being instruments of emotive proclamations. In Carmen, these elements come together to serve as a crucial plot device, faithfully prompting the seamless cascade of Carmen’s reconciliation with her loss and her acceptance of who she is and where she comes from. It’s heartwarmingly reminiscent of the warning the cab driver dropped out of nowhere when Carmen’s fervid escapism transforms into a journey of self-acceptance. Where would she be without Masilda’s unwavering arms supporting and guiding her as she discovers her very own rhythmic expressions of grief and love?
It is through the inherently motherly Masilda that Carmen even knows to grant herself the same respect as she does her roots. The valiant sacrifices of her mother and grandmother would’ve been a waste had Carmen not trusted her heart and her reliable intuitions to see her through. There are gifts she’s inherited from the women who came before her. And it’s these gifts of spirituality and history that Aiden has proven himself to be worthy of being influenced by.
When Zilah’s acceptance of him seeps through the cracks of his subconscious, even in his sleep, Aiden knows he’s where he’s supposed to be. The stark metamorphosis in the man who sought solace through the strings of a guitar and kept up with boxing just to keep his edges sharp is evident when, to make ends meet, he agrees to participate in an underground fight that pays a hefty sum to the winner. It’s a night of transformation for them both, with Carmen’s forehead bearing streaks of red, holding the very essence of her genealogical abundance, and Aiden risking his life to ascertain a future with the woman he loves.
Albeit asynchronously, Carmen’s most self-revealing performance in front of a spellbound crowd is reflected in the blows and punches Aiden gives and takes to the crushing beats of the rapping referee. There’s a subtle yet quite invasive symbolism to be picked up on in the scene welcoming the ending sequence. The little boy who held a gun to Carmen right after her mother died and right before she burned the cursed remains of her life in Mexico might’ve been the same boy who led her to the crowd flocking around Aiden and his opponent. And considering Aiden is fatally shot in the stomach by the cops who finally, although inadvertently, catch up to him, the boy could very well be a sympathetic manifestation of the Grim Reaper, letting her know that loss is just around the corner.
Carmen’s journey wouldn’t come to a halt. But there’s a world beyond the world where her physical form will still have to be stuck until it helps her fulfill the purpose she’s come all this way for. There, she will dance on with the love that did its part in pulling her out of the wretchedness of self-alienation and sacrificing a great deal to make sure that the legacy of strength doesn’t come to an end.