*this review contains some spoilers
This weekend, after Easter mass, I went to La Cabaña with my mom and my boyfriend. It's a quaint, hidden gem in Ottawa that serves typical Salvadoran food and is honestly so delicious. When my mom and my boyfriend have conversations, they normally talk about traveling and of course, El Salvador, where my mom and I are from, comes up fairly often.
I don't remember how but the topic of gangs and MS-13 came up which led my mom to mention the movie Sin Nombre. I had honestly forgotten about the film even though it's one of my all time favorites; I just hadn't heard about it in a long time. My mom told Omar, my boyfriend, that he absolutely had to watch it because of how well it depicts the gang and so I made myself a mental note to re-watch it but this time with Omar. And so, last night, that's what we did.
Re-watching Sin Nombre brought back all of the feelings I had experienced the first and second times I watched the film. From the character development to the story lines to the dialogue to the scenery, everything about this movie is so amazing. The story line follows a 20-something Mexican man named Willie who goes by Casper. From the first scenes in the film, we can see that Casper is a part of MS-13 due to a massive M-S tattoo on his back.
For some historical context, MS-13, otherwise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, la Mara or simply MS is a Salvadoran gang that has made its' way all across America. Founded in the 80's, the gang is one of the biggest with over 70,000 members and growing. Initiating new members by viciously beating them for 13 seconds and asking them to commit murder, the gang is heavily characterized by their brutal forms of punishment and torture, their drug and human trafficking, as well as their illegal weapons trading. In addition to this, regarding their physical appearance, they are known for having tattoos of the letter M and S, devil horns, skulls, and more all over their body, especially on their face, chest, and back. Due to their brutality and disregard for human life, including women and children, MS-13 is known as one of, if not, the most dangerous gang in the world (BBC News
With that being said, Casper struggles with juggling his double life as a gang member and as a loving boyfriend to Martha Marlen. To elaborate, gang leaders, El Mago and El Sol, come to the realization that Casper has been lying to them about going to raid trains carrying illegal immigrants in order to rob them of their money and possessions because he has been going to see Martha Marlen instead. After a gang meeting, Casper's girlfriend shows up much to his surprise and ultimately, as we will see further in the film, his demise. El Mago offers to take Martha Marlen home but in turn, he does the unimaginable to Casper as he attempts to rape his girlfriend but accidentally kills her instead when he pushes her and she smashes her head on a rock. At first, you see a glimpse of humanity in El Mago when he realizes what he's done but when he returns to the group and Casper asks if his girlfriend got home safe, El Mago hits him with one of the most haunting lines in the movie, "se la llevo la Bestia" which translates to "The Devil took her".
Upon hearing the news, Casper looks as though his world has taken a turn; although on the outside he appears to be composed, you can begin see his drawing from reality and his newfound discomfort around the gang. Regardless, El Mago orders Casper and Smiley to join him on another train raid, telling Casper he'll just find him another girl. Aboard the train, the crew runs into Sayra, her father, and her uncle, a group of Hondurans attempting to meet their family in New Jersey. El Mago, attempting to persuade Casper to rape Sayra, gets his neck sliced open by Casper's machete, leaving him dead. Casper tells young Smiley to leave and go back to the gang which Smiley warily does. From there, the story between Sayra, Casper, and their trek to America begins.
Sin Nombre does an excellent job of depicting the scary and harsh reality of living among gang violence in Latin America with its' portrayal of characters such as El Mago, El Sol, Casper, and Smiley.
Many scenes depict how cold blooded these gangsters really are, how brainwashed the younger gangsters end up and how difficult it is to be a Latin American trying to make it to the United States. The movie is heartfelt and has the potential to make you cry but it's also very insightful. In today's America, it's a movie we should all watch to remind us of the harsh realities non-Americans must face allowing us to tune back into our humanity and our anti-superiority complexes that a certain president may be imposing.