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Film / Monos

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Monos ("Monkeys") is a 2019 Colombian war movie, directed by Alejandro Landes and starring Julianne Nicholson and Moises Arias. It debuted at Sundance Film Festival in January 2019, before being released in Colombia and the United States later that year.

The film centers on the Monos, a group of teenage guerrilla fighters stationed on a remote mountaintop in Colombia, as they look after a prisoner of war known only as "Doctora" (Nicholson). The Monos are just like any other teenagers—playing games, falling in love, taking psychedelic mushrooms—but as the situation escalates, tensions run high, and bodies begin to stack up.

Academy Award-nominated composer Mica Levi did the eerie, atonal soundtrack for Monos.

This movie contains the following tropes:

  • Ambiguous Gender Identity:
    • Rambo. She's played by a female actress (who sometimes goes by "Matt"), but her name is a reference to a male character, she wears her hair cropped short and she never engages in any feminine activities like the other female Monos. Wolf says that she's "like a brother" to him, and she seems at ease kissing both him and Lady. The character was originally written as male, and the director has referred to the character as "post-gender."
    • Dog wears his hair long and is the only Mono with jewelry: a nose ring and a pierced eyebrow. After the wedding, he drunkenly dons fishnet stalkings, shakes his butt suggestively and gripes that his mother called him a "slut." It's not clear whether he identifies as female or was just messing around.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Rambo is obviously attracted to Lady and regrets being spurning by her for Bigfoot. It's unclear if Rambo is attracted to Wolf. He says she's "like a brother" to him. When Lady tells him to kiss her, Rambo kisses him back without complaint.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Swede starts kissing Doctora after throwing herself into her arms out of fear, but after the pair roughly separate, Swede laughs derisively at her, making it unclear if Swede was just toying with her.
  • Ambiguous Situation: So much. It's left unexplained who the Organization is, who they're fighting, what they're fighting for, and even what country they're in. We don't find out why Doctora is considered such a valuable hostage (other than the fact that she's American). We also never get an explanation of why the Monos and their Messenger make that kissing sound into their palm as some sort of greeting or summons.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Many of the Monos are dead, and (if what Swede says is anything to go by) many more may die once the Organization finds out what they've done. Rambo survives, but is picked up by a military helicopter, with her fate left ambiguous. However, Doctora has escaped, and is expected to be rescued.
  • Child Soldiers: Rambo turns 15 in an early scene, and the others aren't much older.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The proof of life conversation between Doctora and the Organization's commander features inside jokes between her and her family. We don't find out why "Spiderman is the greatest superhero" or "what part of mommy's body makes daddy angry."
  • Drill Sergeant Nasty: The Messenger fills this role for the Monos, putting them through intense training and turning them against each other.
  • Drone of Dread: Mica Levi's score is used sparingly, but ratchets up the dread whenever it's present.
  • Dwindling Party: The Monos' ranks are slowly reduced by death and desertion.
  • Fan Disservice: Doctora is obviously braless in some scenes, and in her underwear in another. She is also a prisoner, which reduces the titillation factor.
  • A Father to His Men: Zig-zagged. The Messenger tells the Monos that they are his children. When Bigfoot is implicated in treasonous activity, the Messenger says that he will bring Bigfoot before the Organization's council, but also serve as his representative. The feeling is apparently one-sided or nonexistent entirely, as Bigfoot shoots the Messenger in the back to escape punishment.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: When Doctora drowns Swede, the camera cuts to the victim's kicking feet. After she's dead, the camera stays underwater so her face is never visible.
  • Homage: If you weren't already getting a serious Lord of the Flies vibe in the first half, the film makes it pretty explicit when the Monos mount a pig's head on a spike. The director also wanted to hearken to Heart of Darkness.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: The Monos are given a cow and are told to look after it, because if anything happens to the cow, then the peasants who "loaned" it will stop helping the cause and start talking to the government. They then have a party, and Dog drunkenly blasts away into the fog, killing the cow.
  • Language Barrier: Doctora speaks a decent amount of Spanish, but she's occasionally confused by the things the Monos say to her.
  • Let's Get Dangerous!:
    • For the first two acts of the film, the Monos are a rather inept bunch who cower in their trench when the fighting reaches their outpost. Once the Monos go independent under the leadership of Bigfoot, however, they get much more serious, painting themselves black, stalking through the jungle and killing a number of civilian and military targets.
    • After a whole film of passive resistance, Doctora escapes by murdering Swede.
  • Lima Syndrome: Defied. When first introduced, Swede is doting on Doctora and doing her hair, but later she says that she'll kill Doctora if the enemy tries to rescue her. Doctora tries to inspire sympathy from Swede, and when Swede throws herself into Doctora's arms when startled by an explosion, they start kissing. But after they violently separate, Swede laughs at her, suggesting that Swede might have been messing around. Ultimately, Doctora kills Swede to escape.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Smurf is still a child and therefore the smallest Mono.
    • Wolf, as squad leader, is the alpha of the group.
    • Lady gets into romantic relationships with each squad leader, making her the "lady" of the group's lord.
    • Boom Boom's nickname likely refers to his brawn, and the fitness-crazed Messenger says he has high hopes for him.
    • Rambo's nickname becomes ironic when she leaves the group because of its growing savagery.
    • Bigfoot's name is likely ironic, given that he's the shortest male teen.
  • Mushroom Samba: Some Monos get high off of mushrooms that have grown in cow dung.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Doctora breaks down after drowning Swede.
  • No Ending: Very little is resolved at the end: Did Doctora eventually find refuge somewhere? What did the soldiers do with Rambo? What happened to Bigfoot and Boom-Boom after they dove into the river? What happened to the other Monos in camp now that they have separated from the Organization and their party was dwindled to almost nothing?
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The location of the film is never named, though it's strongly implied to be Colombia.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Wolf kicks the hell out of Dog after discovering that he's shot the cow.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Nobody is called by their real names in this movie. The Monos go by nicknames like Bigfoot, Smurf, and Wolf, while the representative for The Organization is known only as the Messenger. The only name we find out is Doctora's (Sara Watson), and only then at the very end.
  • Pint-Sized Powerhouse: The Messenger is a little person who stands about 4'8, yet he's absolutely ripped and drills the Monos in their physical training.
  • Pragmatic Evil: The Organization is a brutal, kidnapping guerrilla outfit, but the Messenger gives strict instructions for the Monos to take care of the cow so that they can return it to the locals who lent it to them. Otherwise, the locals would stop giving them things and inform on them instead.
  • Shout-Out: Rambo and Smurf are obviously named after the media franchises. Shakira the cow is likely named after the famous singer.
  • Teens Are Monsters: The Monos are child and teen soldiers who are seen killing a few people through the course of the film. Only Rambo seems to have a problem with it.