“A Better Life” (2011). Cast: Demián Bichir, José Julián, Joaquín Cosio, Dolores Heredia, Carlos Linares, Bobby Soto, Chelsea Rendon, Richard Cabral, Todd Felix. Director: Chris Weitz. Screenplay: Eric Eason. Story: Roger L. Simon. www.ABetterLife-movie.com, www.imdb.com/title/tt1554091/
So often in life we wonder why things turn out as they do. We ponder the outcomes we experience, especially when they have a significant personal impact on us. But, if we’re truly honest with ourselves, we invariably find that those results are generally driven by our beliefs and expectations, a theme explored in depth in the absorbing drama, “A Better Life,” now available on DVD.
Like many who make their way to the U.S., Carlos Galindo (Demián Bichir) desires a brighter future for himself and his teenage son, Luis (José Julián). He spends his days tending the gardens of wealthy homeowners in and around Los Angeles with his boss, Blasco (Joaquín Cosio). He works hard, but, as an illegal Mexican immigrant, he also keeps a low profile, ever aware that even the slightest infraction could get him deported in a heartbeat. He also keeps a watchful eye on Luis; as a single father, he’s concerned that his son might fall prey to the gangs that heavily recruit neighborhood youths.
Carlos’s hopes for a better life get an unexpected boost one day when Blasco announces plans to sell his truck, the primary asset of his landscaping business. Having achieved his business goals, Blasco plans to move on, but, before departing, he gives Carlos first crack at buying the vehicle and taking on his client list. Carlos is hesitant initially, but he realizes that, if he doesn’t make the purchase, he’ll probably be out of a job, since there’s no guarantee that a different owner would hire him.
Carlos decides to take a chance and become his own boss; he borrows money from his sister Anita (Dolores Heredia) to buy the truck and set himself up in business. It’s a big step, one with the potential to deliver great rewards, but one that also carries more risk now that he must assume a higher profile. And it’s not long before he discovers just how big a risk that can be; when he hires an assistant (Carlos Linares) to help him, Carlos quickly has his world turned upside down, threatening everything he’s worked so hard to achieve.
“A Better Life” provides an excellent illustration of the power of expectation in governing the outcomes we experience. As conscious creation practitioners well know, expectations are based on our beliefs, the driving force in what materializes in the reality surrounding us, and that concept is clearly on display here. The picture is particularly effective at demonstrating what happens when conflicting beliefs come into play. For example, Carlos genuinely believes that a better life is possible in the U.S., yet this aspiration is constantly burdened by the conflicting influence of fear that he’ll be exposed as an illegal alien, an element that not only sabotages his hopeful intentions but that also threatens to make his worst nightmares become self-fulfilling prophecies.
On the other hand, the film also shows the malleability of beliefs, that they’re always capable of being changed or rewritten and that even second chances are possible, provided we choose carefully. This is especially apparent in the relationship between Carlos and Luis. As Carlos spends more and more of his time working and Luis spends more of his time with questionable peers (Bobby Soto, Chelsea Rendon, Richard Cabral), we see a father growing progressively worried about an impressionable son, fearing not only for his child’s future but also concerned about the deterioration of their bond with one another. Since Luis is obviously the most important aspect of Carlos’s life, he creates circumstances that draw the two of them back closer together, though it’s a choice that carries potentially high-cost consequences and that may well involve subsequent belief rewrites – changes that, in themselves, may prompt the rise of additional new opportunities for second chances as well.
Given the subject matter of this picture, it might be easy to let political views color one’s opinion of it, regardless of which side of the fence one’s views fall on. However, I’d like to hope that audiences could find it in themselves to look past such superficial considerations and assess the movie on a deeper level, giving its profound metaphysical themes a critical examination. To be frank, doing less than that, in my opinion, constitutes “lazy viewing” on the audience’s part. Perhaps this is a pet peeve of mine, but I was sorely disappointed when many viewers did just that with the release of “Crash” in 2005, unfairly saddling the picture with a stigma based on oversimplified interpretations that it has carried around with it ever since, despite its critical acclaim and numerous accolades, including the Academy Award for best picture. I would hate to see “A Better Life” befall a similar fate.
With that said, however, I must hasten to add that “A Better Life” is no “Crash,” either. It’s an engaging drama that tells its story well, despite some rather improbable plot line elements, and its narrative is heartfelt and moving, particularly where the father-son relationship is concerned. It’s well acted across the board, and it provides a probing look at a world that most us probably never see.
If you haven’t heard of this film, you’re not alone; it had a verybrief theatrical run at independent movie houses last summer, though, if you blinked, you probably missed it. However, the picture’s visibility has risen of late with its DVD release and with two well-deserved best actor nominations for Bichir in the Screen Actors Guild and Independent Spirit Awards competitions (there’s even talk of an outside shot at an Oscar nod, too). It’s certainly heartening to see a small film like this receive some noteworthy recognition, considering how easily its voice might have been overpowered by the noise associated with other larger, better-financed productions.
It’s been said that we should be careful what we wish for, because we just might get it. And therein lies the power of expectations in manifesting the results we experience, especially when powerful elements like fear and conflicting beliefs get wrapped up in the mix. “A Better Life” reinforces that notion, showing us that we’d be wise to choose those beliefs carefully in the first place – and maybe to even think twice before doing so.
Copyright © 2012, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.