2009, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 51, spring 2009
Sex versus the small screen:
home video censorship and
Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también
by Caetlin Benson-Allott
Seventeen years ago, video critic Charles Tashiro warned that “you can wait for it on video, but ‘it,’ like Godot, will never arrive,” and today his aesthetic lament carries political implications as well (16). Video-tapes and -discs have changed our experience of motion picture exhibition significantly over the past thirty-odd years, due in part to the unprecedented proliferation of adaptation techniques like letterboxing, Pan & Scan editing, and color correction. However, some movies also lose footage during their transfer to video, particularly sexually and politically charged footage. In these cases, you see less of the movie on video than the full theatrical release. Motion pictures do go through many editing processes over the course of their production and distribution, of course, but these just-for-video elisions cut their movies’ narratives, tenor, and arguments, often without acknowledging the loss.[open endnotes in new window] Furthermore, these video excisions almost exclusively affect international productions. The result is that this video editing effectively determines who gets to see which international releases and what parts of them, given that most U.S. viewers now choose to or must “wait for it on video” (Klinger 4). This media-specific censorship suggests that video faces different moral standards than the cinema, standards that are enforced by the MPAA’s self-interested nationalist application of its rating system. However, it would be inaccurate to characterize either the MPAA or its member studios as specifically xenophobic. Rather they self-censor in order to appease video rental and sell-through outlets' conservative economic clout.
Alfonso Cuarón’s Y tu mamá también is only one of the many victims of the U.S. video industry’s commercial adversity to foreignness and sexuality. However, the changes made for U.S. video distribution of Cuarón’s film are not only egregious but also exemplary, because they highlight the political ramifications of the MPAA and U.S. studios’ new economic dependence on video distribution. Specifically, MGM cut five minutes from Y tu’s film version in order to produce an R-rated video acceptable to the major video outlets’ standards for family friendly commercial viability. Although the studio also distributed an unrated “special edition” of Cuarón’s movie as it appeared in theaters, the R-rated standard edition the director put together at MGM’s behest led Cuarón to lament,
“I castrated my movie” (Hirschberg 15).
As I will show, Cuarón had to cede to MGM’s demand for a family-friendly video version of Y tu in order to secure any U.S. distribution for his film. However, this more marketable Y tu is missing more than a few penises and pelvic thrusts. Cuarón also had to cut the sexual mestizaje that completes his film’s narrative arc and political allegory. This climax, the homosexual union of the movie’s teenage male protagonists, carries both dramatic and political significance in the film because Cuarón uses Mexico’s national tradition of allegorical filmmaking to condemn the neoliberal turn in Mexican politics. Losing the culmination of the boys’ sexual narrative garbles Cuarón’s critique of government corruption and economic exploitation in Mexico. In this way, the editing sanitizes the film for some of the same multinational corporations that benefit most from recent trade liberalizations in Mexico, of which NAFTA is one (notorious) example.
Y tu’s U.S. video distribution thus made it the subject of the same transnational neoliberal forces that it seeks to critique. For that reason, in this article I will employ both textual analysis and industry history to demonstrate how the giant video retailers have rendered video an even more fiscally—as so politically—conservative format than film. The first section of the essay details what gets censored from the R-rated Y tu, while the second section explores how those losses undermines the film’s larger political critique. My conclusion then situates Y tu mamá también within the recent upheaval in U.S. film and video distribution that made these changes seem fiscally necessary to its distributors. In this manner, I hope to communicate the political significance of Hollywood’s economic dependence on video distribution.
Formal economics: story, structure,
and narration in Y tu mamá también
In order to explain what is missing from the R-rated Y tu mamá también, I must first briefly summarize the film’s plot and voice-over narration and contextualize their contributions to the allegorical significance of the movie’s queer climax. Y tu mamá también opens just after its protagonists, Tenoch Iturbide (Diego Luna) and Julio Zapata (Gael García Bernal), graduate from high school in the summer of 1999. Despite their close friendship, Tenoch and Julio come from radically different class backgrounds: Tenoch is the son of a wealthy undersecretary of state while Julio’s single mother works as a secretary in a large factory. The movie opens with the boys saying goodbye to their girlfriends, who are spending the summer in Italy. Alone and without any responsibilities, they meet up with their friend Saba (Andrés Almeida) to inaugurate a season of sexual infidelity and drug use. Their hedonistic plans quickly deteriorate into ennui, however, and Julio and Tenoch find themselves reduced to smoking pot and horsing around a deserted country club. Then the wedding of Tenoch’s sister, Jessica, brings the boys in contact with Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú), the wife of Tenoch’s cousin Jano. Luisa recently moved to Mexico City from her native Madrid, and her European sophistication quickly arouses the boys’ interest. They try to kindle hers by inviting her to join them on a hastily fabricated road trip to a made-up beach, Heaven’s Mouth. Recognizing Heaven’s Mouth as a MacGuffin, Luisa initially rebuffs their advances, but after her doctor delivers some upsetting test results and her husband announces that he slept with another woman, she decides to accompany the boys on their mythic vacation.
The names of these three travelers hint at the national allegory at work in Y tu mamá también. For although Cuarón’s movie loosens the rigid identifications that typically structure allegory, the script nonetheless uses fiction to invoke Mexican history and thereby reject contemporary political corruption and economic exploitation. Thus the names carry historical resonances:
Each character’s name comments on his or her colonial and class status in the film's fiction while simultaneously reminding the viewer of Mexico’s enduring struggle for national unity. Their names recall both Mexico’s colonial history and its history of insurrection. In this way, the script encourages us to regard Y tu as a new sort of national mythmaking in which the legendary figures of Mexico’s political past reassemble so we can reexamine their influence on the country’s current economic stratification and political strife.
Another major strategy by which the film scripts political commentary is through the comments of an anonymous voice-over narrator. Political backstories and other information of this sort often enter Y tu through this voice-over narration, which is supplied by an unusually assertive non-diegetic narrator. This narrator, who is never named and never appears in the film, seems to follow Julio and Tenoch’s road trip as an organizing narrative structure, almost a frame tale, through which he can investigate the political and economic context that makes their trip possible. That investigation often pulls the narrator’s—and thus our—attention away from Tenoch and Julio into what María Saldaña-Portillo calls the film’s “interstitial scenes,” moments when the camera and audio track temporarily abandon Julio and Tenoch to pursue other interests (769). Specifically, the camera pans or tracks away from the boys to examine the other lives and socio-economic experiences that the boys pass by. Thus at one point the camera turns from Tenoch and Julio’s car to examine a pair of roadside crosses they fail to notice. As he does during all his looks away, the narrator mutes all diegetic noise during his ensuing commentary. In this instance, he explains how ten years earlier a chicken farmer and his child died in an auto accident at this spot, thus offering an understanding of the highway, its uses, and its dangers very different from the boys’.
Critics have tended to read the narrator’s asides as opposed to the movie’s narrative, as critiques of the boys’ solipsism and the solipsism of narrative in general. But in fact the narrator's comments highlight the boys’ obliviousness to their surroundings as they brag to Luisa about their indomitable friendship, fraternal manifesto, and drug use. 
Luisa likewise appears naively disengaged from the poverty they pass as she informs Julio and Tenoch about her life in Spain and advises them on sexual techniques. When Luisa suggests that the boys experiment with anal stimulation, however, they are so shocked that the car’s radiator symbolically explodes. This mechanical failure and the sexual rupture it represents mark a change in the nature of the journey, and shortly thereafter, Luisa takes Tenoch to bed. After Julio walks in on their awkward union, he jealously informs Tenoch that he once slept with Ana, Tenoch’s girlfriend. This sexual rivalry deeply threatens the boys’ friendship, in part because their mutual insults quickly become class-based. However, when Luisa observes their hostility the next day, she blames herself and decides to seduce Julio to even their score. Tenoch responds by telling Julio that he also had sex with Julio’s girlfriend, Ceci, and in the ensuing fight, the boys become so violent and immature that Luisa abandons their trip. When they beg her for another chance, she acquiesces only on the condition that they follow her manifesto from now on, which includes a provision that she will no longer sleep with either of them, although they are free “to screw each other if [they] like.
Luisa’s caveat soon becomes the film’s climax. After the boys miraculously manage to find a beach like the one they described, the trio are discovered in their idyll by a local fisherman and his wife, Chuy and Mabel, who offer to take the friends on a tour of the local coves, including one called Heaven’s Mouth. The beach tour ends in pandemonium after a pack of stray pigs destroys the travelers’ campsite), so they decide to rent a room from Chuy and Mabel and celebrate the success of their trip with tequila shots at a local cantina. There they toast Jano, the clitoris, and Tenoch’s mother before Julio and Tenoch join Luisa in a bar dance that quickly leads to the bedroom and the beginnings of a ménage-a-trois.
What happens next depends on which edition of the movie you see. If you have the R-rated version, then the ménage-a-trois culminates with Luisa in her underwear sitting back on Julio’s lap while Tenoch gropes for hers. If you watch the unrated Y tu, however, then Tenoch’s hand gets to reach its destination, and Luisa pulls Julio up with her until all three lovers are standing together. The boys then remove Luisa’s panties, after which she pulls off their pants and gradually descends below the bottom of the frame, presumably to either fellate or manually stimulate the boys. Julio and Tenoch now appear alone together, and as they turn towards each other, they slowly begin what becomes a passionate embrace. From there, the movie cuts abruptly to the next morning, to shots of Chuy working on his boat and Mabel and Luisa discussing beaches over breakfast. Only then does the camera return to the bedroom, where it finds Tenoch and Julio passed out naked together, although they each quickly bolt from their bed to vomit and find some “hair of the dog,” respectively. Both boys then insist that they must return to Mexico City as soon as possible, although Luisa chooses to stay in San Bernabé and explore more beaches.
This morning-after scene carries very different implications depending on which wild night your copy of Y tu contains. To be more precise, the scene’s very plausibility hinges on what sort sexual shenanigans the movie is allowed to imply. The R-rated Y tu can only code Julio and Tenoch’s reactions as overreactions to some mild sexual experimentation. The boys already “shared” Luisa in one sense, so their mutual rapid departure feels unnecessary and under-motivated, and the concluding dissolution of their friendship seems almost nonsensical. For as the narrator reports, after Tenoch and Julio leave Luisa in San Bernabé, they cease to be intimates (emotionally, let alone sexually) and eventually lose touch entirely:
"After returning from Europe, Cecelia and Ana broke up with Tenoch and Julio. Two months later, Tenoch started dating his neighbor. Nine months later, Julio started dating a girl from his French class. Julio and Tenoch stopped seeing each other."
"The following summer, the ruling party lost the presidential election for the first time in seventy-one years. Julio ran into Tenoch on his way to the dentist. Going for a cup of coffee was easier than making excuses to avoid it."
Over coffee, the boys catch up on the lives of their friends Saba and Daniel and their respective college plans: Julio will study biology at a local community college, while Tenoch will pursue economics at the university. When these topics wear thin, Tenoch asks Julio,
“Did you hear about Luisa?”
Evidently Luisa died one month after they left her in San Bernabé from a cancer that had spread throughout her body. Tenoch explains that Luisa knew about the illness before their trip, and his revelation allows us to appreciate retroactively the significance of her medical test results. While we process these additions to her character, the narrator takes over Luisa’s story and provides details Tenoch cannot, describing her last days and bequeathements. He ends by observing,
“Tenoch excused himself. His girlfriend was waiting for him at the movies. Julio insisted on paying the check. They will never meet again.”
We are given no explanation for the finality of this decree, for the fatality of a friendship that initially seemed so joyous and invulnerable. Their ménage-a-trois alone cannot justify this termination, because the boys laughed about sleeping with each other’s girlfriends that very night. They even drank to being “milk brothers,” so it seems inconceivable that sharing one woman could end their association (Fig. 49 and 50).
Indeed, the unrated Y tu confirms that it was not a ménage-a-trois that ruined the boys’ friendship, because it uses the formal limits on depictions of sexuality established by the Hays Code to imply that their erotic experiences did not stop there. The unrated group grope ends with the boys alone on screen and later cuts to them alone in bed the next morning, a tried and true cinematic conceit to suggest that the boys had sex together, not with Luisa. Furthermore, the gendered iconography the film rehearses before discovering them in bed confirms their union even if the movie declines to show it.
As I mentioned earlier, the morning-after scene opens with Chuy engaged in the manly work of fixing his boat’s engine while Luisa and Mabel make breakfast, chat about the beaches, and feed the children. When the camera finally turns to Tenoch and Julio, they are removed from both the masculine scene of labor and the feminine scene of domestic production. They occupy a third space outside of the heterosexual order, that of lovers lolling in bed. Because Luisa is already part of the kitchen scene and not hung-over with Tenoch and Julio, she is not coded as part of the previous evening’s sexual shenanigans. She was not part of the final kiss, and she was not in bed the next morning; she simply was not there. In this context, the boys’ panicked departure and subsequent alienation from each other become tragic but comprehensible examples of internalized homophobia. Without the mediation of a woman, the milk brothers must face their desire for one another’s “vanilla,” as they so crudely put it, and they cannot. Indeed, they literally cannot face each other. When they subsequently meet for coffee, Julio sprawls sideways on his banquette while Tenoch sits at the table (Fig. 51). As their conversation turns to Luisa’s death, i.e. the loss of the final mediation between them, the camera breaks from the customary two-shot with which it typically frames the boys and into a shot-reverse-shot pattern that emphasizes their new distance. “They will never meet again,” because without Luisa or the girlfriends they shared, they have no artificial bridge to cover their real connection.
Censure and narration:
unpacking (the loss of) the
queer allegory in Y tu mamá también
In the unrated Y tu, the boys’ concluding alienation provides a tragic note crucial to the film’s political allegory, and without it, the narrator is unable to clarify properly the political tensions he has hinted at throughout the film. Yet in order to appreciate the mechanics of this allegorical resolution and its failure in the R-rated Y tu, a few more observations need to be made about the specific scenes censored in Y tu. Many scenes of sexual content were cut from the R-rated version, including all of the pre-orgasmic thrusting between Tenoch and Ana in the film’s first scene, Julio and Ceci’s quick consummation while searching for her passport (Fig. 52), the majority of Tenoch and Luisa’s and Julio and Luisa’s love scenes, and many passing glances at the boys’ penises.
Even the movie’s subtitles help to obscure its sexual content, for in the R-rated Y tu several lines of dialogue are intentionally mistranslated. When Luisa tries to advise the boys on how to make love to their girlfriends in the unrated Y tu, she asks, “You ever wiggle your finger up the ass?” whereupon they scream, “Ass?” and the car’s radiator explodes under the pressure of the anus’ potential as a site of pleasure. The R-rated Y tu reinterprets Luisa’s question as, “You ever touch her softly from behind?” which enables the preposition “from” to recode “behind” as the place where the boys might be in relationship to their girlfriends rather than the place where their girlfriends might enjoy being touched. When the boys then scream, “Behind?” and the radiator breaks, a clever viewer might still catch an allusion to anal pleasure, but syntactically it has been removed from the film.
These elisions all work to straighten and sanitize Cuarón’s movie, but the excision of Tenoch and Julio’s love scene nonetheless represents an important special case in motion picture censorship, since a priori one cannot cut a shot that was never filmed. That is, while the R-rated Y tu mamá también deletes a few heterosexual love scenes and brief glimpses of the boys’ penises, it cannot actually remove the queer sex, because it was never really there to begin with. The boys never have (simulated) sex on-screen in either edition of Y tu, which makes MGM’s censorship of that scene essentially theoretical and therefore the key to the movie’s political dismemberment. Remember: the last time we see Julio and Tenoch on the (unrated) night in question, they have only just begun to kiss, even if the proximity of their bodies and the increasing passion of their embrace imply that they are going to have sex. So although the R-rated Y tu leaves the love scene while Luisa is still positioned between the two boys, the content it is repressing, i.e. homosexual sex, is repressed in the unrated movie as well. Gay sex is thus Y tu’s impossible dream. It represents the film’s allegorical ideal of mestizaje, its utopia, Heaven’s Mouth.
This queer allegory matters, because MGM would not have spent its money, nor Alfonso Cuarón his time, to rid Y tu mamá también of a scene that was never present anyway unless those changes would have significant effects on the movie’s marketability. Indeed, the effects were significant, because MGM did not just cut sex. Because Julio and Tenoch have sex within a politicized, quasi-allegorical narrative, their sexual connection has a radical tenor that even exceeds its homoerotic significance. By ridding the movie of its queer utopia, it undermined the tragic note of the film’s denouement and so cut (potentially unmarketable) politics. When MGM eliminates their culminating embrace, therefore, the studio does not simply undermine the movie’s conclusion. It destroys Cuarón’s indictment of neoliberalism, NAFTA, and their effects on Mexican mestizaje, because it compromises the narrator’s ability to make sense of Tenoch and Julio’s relationship. We must return therefore to the nondiegetic narrator, to his role in and structuring of Y tu, in order to appreciate how he works throughout the film to tie the boys’ sexual journey to Mexico’s national politics and create a cohesive political allegory around their homoerotic union.
From his first interjection, Y tu’s narrator explicitly relates his interest in class to the boys’ sexual relationships:
"Ana’s mother, a French divorcée, taught at the Learning Institute for Foreigners. She did not object to Tenoch sleeping with her daughter. For Julio it was different. He could only stay with Cecelia until dinner and had to come back in the morning for the trip to the airport. Cecelia’s father, a pediatrician specializing in allergies, thought his daughter’s relationship with Julio had gone too far. Her mother, a Lacanian psychologist, saw it differently. She believed their relationship was innocent."
This introduction must be quoted at length, because it demonstrates why the narrator has chosen to follow Tenoch and Julio’s story. If, as Hester Baer and Ryan Long suggest, “the disembodied voice-over—sometimes referred to as the ‘voice of god’—possesses absolute authority and mastery over the narrative,” then the narrator must be credited with selecting the story he presents as well as the manner in which it is presented (158).
The above introduction teaches us why the narrator is interested in Julio and Tenoch, because it asks us to read the boys’ sexual exploits as class narratives: Ana’s mother does not mind Tenoch’s relationship with her daughter because she is a divorced school teacher while he is the son of an under-secretary of state, but Cecelia’s professional parents either object to or are in denial about Julio’s relationship to their daughter because, as the narrator will soon reveal, Julio’s mother is only a secretary. Class is thus a determining factor in the boys’ sexual narrative, just as it is in all the extradiegetic anecdotes the narrator relates. The narrator thus appears to be intrigued by the boys’ story because class affects their access to sex, the barometer of social power and prestige in their peer group, and so can render their world a microcosmic allegory for Mexican national politics.
The narrator’s introductory emphasis on class also contextualizes his first turn away from the boys a few minutes later. As Tenoch and Julio drive home from the airport, exchanging jokes about farts and the sexual charms of “left-wing chicks,” they find themselves caught traffic jam, which they attribute to a political demonstration but the narrator associates with a pedestrian fatality:
"On that day, three demonstrations took place across the city. Nevertheless, the traffic jam was caused by Marcelino Escutia, a migrant bricklayer from Michoacán who was hit by a speeding bus. He never used the pedestrian bridge, because its poor location would force him to walk two extra kilometers to his worksite. The Red Cross took his unidentified body to the city morgue. It took four days for the corpse to be claimed."
Perhaps because the narrator proceeds from this explanation to a description of Tenoch’s wealth and the drugs that he and his friends consume, critics have tended to assume that the narrator means to oppose Tenoch’s story to Marcelino Escutia’s and use Escutia’s death as a critique of Tenoch’s hedonism (Baer and Long 158-159, Saldaña-Portillo 769). However, a better understanding of the non-diegetic narrator's role suggests that their stories ought to be read holistically, as part of the same narrative. Marcelino Escutia’s narrator is also Tenoch and Julio’s narrator, and it is precisely the juxtaposition of their stories that reveals the economic framework inherent in the boys’ tale. For if the omniscient male “voice-over is an ‘undemocratic’ assertion of male authority and control,” as Kaja Silverman and others have proposed, that “functions, on a formal level, to contain and direct the film’s meaning for the viewer,” then one cannot simply dismiss Tenoch and Julio’s story as the spoonful of sugar this narrator or his filmmakers add to make the political commentary go down (Silverman 157, Baer and Long 159).
As Mariá Saldaña-Portillo points out, Y tu’s filmic asides document the struggles and untimely deaths of working and impoverished Mexican subjects. However, Tenoch and Julio’s story represents the other side of the same political situation, i.e. Mexico after twenty years of neoliberal government and five years after the implementation of NAFTA. By bringing these disenfranchised characters into Julio and Tenoch’s story as asides, the narrator connects the latter’s tale of middle-class hedonism and privilege to the former’s stories of struggle, stories traditionally excluded from or silenced by dominant accounts of Latin American neoliberalism. Yet by fusing these disparate experiences, the narrator leads the viewer into a broader understanding of Mexico’s current socio-economic disparities. That said, precisely because the narrator is capable of looking away from Julio and Tenoch, every moment he chooses to stay with or in their narrative deserves to be read as a political choice. Because it too is a story of neoliberalism, the boys’ story is just as politically freighted as that of Luisa Obregón and equally as representative of the narrator’s interest in neoliberal Mexico:
"Doña Martina gave Luisa the figure of the mouse with her name on it. It had belonged to her granddaughter, Luisa Obregón, who had died of a heatstroke fifteen years ago, while crossing the border in Arizona with her parents, seeking a better life."
The narrator’s interjections thus affirm (along with the characters’ names) that Y tu
“functions as an allegory, presenting the viewer with a cinematic interpretation of the changing nature of Mexican sovereignty, subaltern positionality, and colonial fantasy in the context of neoliberalism historically represented by NAFTA” (Saldaña-Portillo 751).
Yet some critics still dismiss Tenoch and Julio’s desire as a “homoerotically charged Oedipal complex,” a mere “plot device” (Saldaña-Portillo 751). This argument ignores the narrator’s sincere interest in the boys, not to mention their allegorical value in Y tu’s filmic compilation of neoliberal Mexican experiences. The characters’ names comment on the need for a new national allegory. In that context, the boys’ encounters with the lives around them remind us that their one utopian night together is part of the film’s attempt to envision a new mexicanidad, one that might heal the complex fracturing of national experience that followed Mexico’s transition to neoliberalism. Indeed, the movie’s commitment to reading the boys through an allegorical frame even extends to the way the camera films them, as Cuarón himself explains:
"In that film, social environment is as important as character. That means you don’t do close-ups because by doing close-ups you’re favoring character over social environment. So you have to stay wide, trying not only to blend your character with social environment but to create the contrast between your character and your social environment." (emphasis mine)
In short, it is precisely the narrator’s interest in Tenoch and Julio that documents NAFTA’s effects on both Mexico’s working and rising middle classes and leads us to read the former’s tragedy as part of the latter’s success and denial. Y tu literally shows us how the mestizaje of Mexico’s national mythography and the boys’ allegorical union comes at the expense of the impoverished and dispossessed that the boys pass (and to some degree exploit) during their travels. As Saldaña-Portillo observes, rural
“Mexico has historically sustained political mestizaje, enabled it, served it, and enveloped it, while nevertheless remaining marginal to this allegory of revolutionary nationalism” (767).
Y tu mamá también inserts that exploitation into Mexico’s tradition of allegorical filmmaking and simultaneously uses the allegorical mode to personify the machismo, homophobia, and class bias that has kept Mexico from becoming a true mestizaje.
The movie’s dénouement pulls this critique into focus through the narrator’s nonsequiteur comment on national politics, but that critique still relies on Tenoch and Julio’s allegorical scene of homosexual mestizaje in order to register as such. Without their full embrace, the boys become insufficient as allegories, and the film ends in a muddle of unclear motivations instead of radical suggestion. As I mentioned before, the denouement begins with the narrator’s summation of Julio and Tenoch’s dating lives after the beach trip, intercut with the observation that
“the following summer, the ruling party lost the presidential election for the first time in seventy-one years.”
Y tu thus takes advantage of film’s ability
“to stage temporalized cultural contradictions not only within the shot, through mise-en-scène, décor, costume, and so forth, but also through the interplay and contradictions between the diverse tracks, which can mutually shadow, jostle, undercut, haunt, and relativize one another” (Stam 38).
The narrator uses the dénouement to bind aurally the boys’ futures to Mexican politics: they first see each other as the narrator begins to announce the 2000 victory of the Partido Acción Nacional over the Partido Revolucionario Institucional, and they shake hands as his sentence becomes syntactically complete. Furthermore, when they meet again, the boys emphasize their distance from their past intimacy through ironic class distinctions in their clothes. Julio now ties his hair back and wears a sloppy approximation of professional dress while Tenoch has taken to greasing his hair (ducktail and all) and sporting a stylized motorcycle jacket. Class has come between them, differentiated them, and offered them codes with which to disavow their previous naked connection (albeit codes that rely on citations of the other boy’s class status). As Saldaña-Portillo interprets the scene,
“The homophobic aversion the boys express towards each other after they have sex… is symptomatic of the revulsion that is at the heart of the PRI elite’s appraisal of the popular classes.”
However, the boys’ outfits reaffirm that Y tu means to root their homophobia in class desire as well as class anxiety (767). Indeed, the boys’ cross-class costumes sadly suggest that they can only cite (as opposed to perform or inhabit) their desires. As their clothes and demeanors suggest, class bias and homophobia have mutually directed the boys away from the queer mestizaje they created in San Bernabé, making gay union and political union equally impossible—two mythical Heaven’s Mouths (Pérez-Torres 192).
Yet this interpretation only becomes available if the boys get to have (implicit) sex. If not, if you see the R-rated Y tu, then there can be no metaphoric reading of the discomfort they express in one another’s presence at the coffee shop. Their dress now only signifies the paradoxical fashions of their social cliques, because there is no trauma, no forbidden transgression of heteronormativity and class prohibitions for it to refer to. When Tenoch leans back and crosses his arms protectively as Julio brings him up to date on their gay friend Daniel, his actions have no political significance, because they no longer suggest that Tenoch is suffering from an internalized homophobia brought to the fore by an experience of mestizaje that his culture will not condone. These absences disrupt the narrator’s ability to interpret his own story, since most voice-overs only have to mask the spectator’s castration, not the movie’s:
"The voice-over in classic Hollywood cinema, usually spoken by a film’s protagonist, is an 'ideological operation' that sutures over the 'trauma of castration' present in every film experience. As psychoanalytic film critic Kaja Silverman argues, the viewer is always on the verge of discovering this castration—his or her own lack of mastery over the filmic event—as cuts and edits reveal the artifice of the filmic experience. As an ideological operation, the voice-over disavows this lack, 'since it restores the viewer to his or her preordained subject-position and re-secures existing power relations.'” (Saldaña-Portillo 771-772)
The narrator of the unrated Y tu mamá también performs precisely this function, covering over the spectator’s lack of mastery by asserting a mastery of his own. Each time he commandeers the camera and the audio track, the narrator indicates that he has complete control of his film. The spectator can therefore assuage her lack of mastery by identifying with the narrator, although such an identification conveniently requires that she agree with the narrator’s political opinions (or at least entertain them for the duration of the film). The R-rated Y tu undermines this identification, however, because the narrator is unable to suture over the “trauma of [his narrative’s] castration” (Silverman 12). There is no longer any logic to provide closure to the movie or its argument. Although we still know “they will never meet again,” we cannot figure out why. Mestizaje failed, but it just failed, because the R-rated Y tu replaces the rift neoliberalism left in Mexico’s economy with the rift of a missing climax.
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