"Bless Me, Ultima": Real Magic Is Unconditional Love

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Why is there evil in the world? It's a question that's asked at the beginning of Carl Franklin's Bless Me, Ultima, and the fact that it cannot be satisfactorily answered is one of the film's primary themes. Based on the 1972 Rudulfo Anaya novel, it tells the story of a Chicano boy named Antonio (Luke Ganalon) in late 1940s New Mexico, and his relationship with his grandmother, Ultima (Miriam Colon). The townsfolk consider Ultima to be a witch, and they're not necessarily wrong. But is it such a bad thing? Anaya's novel is frequently banned — as recently as 2009 in California, sadly enough — and Franklin's excellent, magical-realist adaption doesn't pull its punches, depicting a world in which curses work, the Christian God is every bit as silent as in a Bergman film (and His priests see no irony in mock-crucifying atheist children), real magic comes from unconditional love, and small children repeatedly say "bullshit!" just because they can. Ultimately, Bless Me, Ultima is a story of a boy coming to realize that the only real evil is a lack of sympathy for all life, and that God doesn't have to enter the equation at all. If that makes Bless Me, Ultima dangerous, it also makes it vital.

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