‘Son of Monarchs’ Review: Of Butterflies and Belonging

“Son of Monarchs” is about immigration, but this is no ordinary story of border crossing. The film, from the director Alexis Gambis, resists the stereotypical formulas that Hollywood demands of Mexican immigration dramas. Instead, it harnesses the allegory of monarch butterflies to sketch an alternate journey of being and belonging.

Mendel (a phenomenal Tenoch Huerta) is a Mexican biologist studying the monarchs’ genetic sequencing. He recently left his home in Michoacán, the animals’ winter refuge, for New York City. The narrative structure is a collage, with radiant scenes from Mendel’s wide-eyed youth and icy images of his austere life in the United States. Before long, the scientist’s psyche unravels as he grapples with leaving home, reconciling spirituality with science and piecing together the fragments of childhood trauma and subsequent estrangement from his brother.

“Son of Monarchs” is ambitious and meditative, thick with philosophical musings from its characters about the environment, life cycles and identity. In its attempt to cover so much, it stumbles at times. While the slow pace demands patience, the cinematographer Alejandro Mejía’s gorgeous visual universe possesses immense gifts that are well worth the wait. Mejía’s camera is gracious, reverent of the bucolic green hills of Michoacán and the microscopic, irregular surface of a chrysalis. It’s a larger statement about the planet’s disappearing treasures under catastrophic climate change. The film’s rich imagery will be imprinted in your memory, returning to you in dreams.

Son of Monarchs
Rated R for disturbing imagery and explicit language. In English and Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

New York time

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