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Film / The Secret in Their Eyes

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The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos) is a 2009 Argentine film directed by Juan José Campanella.

Benjamin Esposito, a federal justice agent, becomes entranced by a rape-murder case in Buenos Aires, and tries to solve it even after case is closed, with help from his alcoholic coworker Sandoval, his new boss (and love interest) Irene Hastings, and Ricardo, the victim's husband. The film alternates between the time of the crime (1974-75) and Esposito's reminiscing of the story in the turn of the century (1999-2000).

The film won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, beating out The White Ribbon from Germany, A Prophet from France, Ajami from Israel and The Milk of Sorrow from Peru.

An English-language remake, written and directed by Billy Ray and starring Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, was released in 2015.


This film provides examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: Sandoval's main defect, which ruins an otherwise charismatic and delightful man.
  • All for Nothing: Esposito spent decades in hiding in Jujuy in fear of Gomez, only to find out that his "pursuer" had been imprisoned by Morales for all that time. This makes him realize that he wasted all this time and that he should have been with Irene.
  • Almost Kiss: Esposito and Hastings almost kiss when they part at the train station, but Esposito hesitates, and they only touch faces.
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: Irene is very much in love with Benjamin, but his obsession with the case has always kept them apart. She spends the movie trapped in the trope until Benjamin finally climbs out of the funk... 25 years later.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Oh, boy. The main focus of the movie is to solve the gruesome rape and murder of Liliana. The correct term to describe the scene and her body is " shockingly and grievously battered".
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  • Blood Knight: He may not look the part, but Pablo makes it clear that bar brawls are a passion of his.
  • Break Them by Talking: Happens twice:
    • Irene taunts and emasculates Gomez in order for him to confess to Liliana's rape and murder.
    • Benjamin has to scamper away to Jujuy under the threats of Gomez and remains a quarter of a century away from Buenos Aires thinking that Gomez is still at large, only to find out that Ricardo kidnapped and imprisoned him not shortly after Benjamin's flight. Unencumbered from the fear for his life, Benjamin is finally able to pursue a relationship with Irene.
  • But Not Too Foreign: Irene is a Cornell graduate of Scottish descent. She's an Argentinian through and through, but she's very high in the social strata (specially compared to Benjamin).
  • By "No", I Mean "Yes": After Benjamin and Pablo flee the house of Gomez's grandmother and are driving away, Benjamin asks Pablo if he took the letters they found. Pablo denies it, and then after a beat, responds, "And what if I had?"
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': This is basically the film's tagline and it permeates every character's arc:
    • Benjamin becomes a target of the dictatorship even when his plight has nothing to do with a political stance; he is kept on a leash because of a number of things including being of low social stature due to being an orphan, being the subordinate of a woman, trying to prosecute a case where a member of the Secret Police is the perpetrator, being constantly berated by Pablo's wife in spite of not being responsible for his friend's alcoholism, and trying to break and enter the perp's mother's home. The dude never gets a break.
    • Irene is constantly pining for Benjamin, but the guy never takes a step forward; she scampers him out of Buenos Aires when his life is in danger, but he never once considers taking her with him, and he constantly brings up the case in spite of it basically destroying their sense of security, haunting them for the remainder of their lives up to that point.
    • Gomez thinks he is above the law when Irene and Benjamin are unable to prosecute him due to him being part of the Secret Police, but he's certainly not impervious to an irate mourning husband that kidnaps him and keeps him prisoner for the rest of his life
    • Pablo's alcoholism eventually gets the better of him, and a final drunk escapade is what finally brings him to Benjamin's apartment, where he found his death at the hands of the Secret Police
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Subverted. Benjamin was a ward of the state, a fact that is used to belittle him and his pretensions towards his position and Irene in particular.
  • Cowboy Cop: Esposito is a deconstruction: his insubordination to the dictatorship forces him to flee the city as a marked man, leaving the love of his life behind.
  • The Determinator: Esposito is not likely to let the case go. Nor is Ricardo, naturally.
  • Fan Disservice: There are two instances of nudity in the film. One is of a woman being raped, and is later seen dead, bloodied and bruised. The second is the rapist showing off his penis, finally confessing.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Invoked by Morales. Morales manages himself to kidnap and lock Gomez up for twenty-five years, not even speaking to him and evidently making him Go Mad from the Isolation.
  • Foreshadowing: Sandoval points out that the perp has been incredibly elusive and somehow has always been aware that the feds are looking for him; turns out that Gomez is a hitman for the Feds and the dictatorship, so he's in the loop.
  • Good Old Ways: Esposito prefers to use a typewriter (and even manually) as opposed to a word processor. In fact, no computers are seen in the movie.
  • Hate Sink: Romano doesn't do much to endear himself to the audience.
  • Heroic BSoD: Benjamin, when he sees Liliana's battered body for the first time. He almost cries with anguish.
    • Benjamin again, after seeing Pablo's dead body.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Pablo, according Benjamin's speculation.
  • I Am Spartacus: Benjamin speculates that Pablo passed himself as Benjamin when the secret police came knocking doors and asking names, thus providing Benjamin with the opportunity to escape being chased.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Irene could have gotten so much out of Benjamin love-wise if he just shut his mouth about the damn case... but he just has to bring it up every time. In the end, they do end up together.
  • The Jailer: Morales has locked Gomez up for twenty-five years as a punishment for murdering his wife.
  • Jerkass: The kindest coherent way of describing Gomez and Romano.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Gomez shows his penis to Hastings to demonstrate his masculinity.
  • Meaningful Name: In Benjamin Esposito's case, "Esposito" (or Exposito) is a blanket Spanish last name given to foster children and it means that either he is an orphan or his father didn't recognize him; either way, it means that he was a ward of the state, which is why he's lower in the social strata than Irene.
  • Mood Whiplash: Benjamin is engaging in some amusing banter before walking into the murder scene, with no transitionary shot.
  • My Greatest Failure: Benjamin has spent 25 years remorseful of not catching Gomez; however, in the end he learns that Morales has exacted a brutal retribution on Gomez, making him nope! the hell out of there and move on with his life.
  • Not So Above It All:
    • From the letters they stole from Gomez' home, Pablo is able to deduce that even when he's very good at covering his tracks, Gomez cannot deny being a fan of CA Racing de Avellaneda, a fact that practically bleeds through his writing. Pablo and Benjamin even attend four games (which could be between 2 weeks or 1 month of stakeout) before they're able to find Gomez.
    • Gomez plays the innocent part to perfection until Irene starts emasculating him in order to provoke him; she touches a nerve, sending him off the rails.
    • Morales tells Benjamin that he shouldn't keep dwelling and revisiting the past; he tells him so because Morales himself hasn't been able to do so by dedicating his life to imprison Gomez, much to the contrary of Benjamin's assumption... Morales was coping a little too well for comfort, Benjamin found out.
  • The Oner: A truly impressive one that starts high in the air, shot from a helicopter approaching a soccer stadium where a game is being played, pans over the players and zooms in on the crowd where Esposito and Sandoval are trying to find the suspect which they do right as a goal is converted and the crowd goes mad, causing them to lose him which in turns gives place to a chase scene through the inside of the stadium, up and down several levels of passages and staircases, inside a bathroom and back out, and eventually back out onto the playing field, where the suspect is finally captured. The whole scene lasts over five minutes.
  • Open Secret: Irene is very obviously in love with Benjamin, but he has always considered himself too low for her.
  • Plot Armor: Invoked and subverted. Irene is too socially affluent for the Secret Police to make her disappear without raising hell, so she assures Benjamin that she is safe from Romano and Gomez; she later admonishes Benjamin for not reading into her situation and fleeing without her, arguing that her life was in threat too regardless (though she has long forgiven him for the slight).
  • Police State: The story takes place in 1970's Argentina, which was under a military dictatorship. Though not obvious in sight, there were plainclothes federal teams dedicated to disappearing, torturing and executing dissidents of the regime; Gomez is part of one of these teams, which is why he walks scot-free from his rape/murder charge.
  • Politically Correct History: Subverted. The story takes place during the "Dirty War" in Argentina (ca. 1974-1983) in which the dictatorship financed anti-communist groups to execute dissidents and carry out terrorists acts with carte-blanche regardless of connections with communism. Benjamin finds out that Gomez is part of one of these groups, making Gomez legally untouchable and turning Benjamin into a target.
  • Popular History: Subverted. The movie is markedly historically accurate. One of the points made is that CA Racing had been champions of Argentina in 1966 and had a 9 year drought when the story takes place. It would be Harsher in Hindsight for Gomez to know that Racing wouldn't be champions of Argentina until 2001.
  • Precision F-Strike: The characters swear a lot, albeit in Spanish.
  • Psycho for Hire: Gomez.
  • Rape as Drama: Starts off the film, and haunts the victim's husband and the investigator for years.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The typewriter:
    • It has foreshadowing, as it types "z" when "a" is pressed, symbolizing the fact that the story had actually ended almost 25 years before, close to when it began.
    • It mirrors Benjamin stubbornly clinging to the case.
    • It also mirrors Morales' raison d'etre with complete lack of closure as to his wife's death, as he's been actively exacting revenge upon Gomez for decades on end.
  • Running Gag: A couple:
    • There is a typewriter at the office that types "z" when "a" is pressed. This comes up at least four times in the story.
    • Benjamin taking Pablo to his house when he's piss drunk only to be rebuked by Pablo's wife; she even blames Benjamin at one point.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Benjamin finally finds out that Ricardo has kept Gomez imprisoned in his ranch for 25 years and realizes what that amount of time can do to a man who hasn't found solace. He realizes that he loves Irene and goes to tell her so; she reciprocates and they finally move on.
  • Smug Snake: Romano.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Gomez.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Benjamin and Irene. When Benjamin (who is fleeing Buenos Aires) asks Irene "What the hell am I gonna do in Jujuy", he's meaning to tell her "What the hell am I gonna do without you?".
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Irene.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Starts with a Window Love and then the protagonist's lover is chasing the train down the platform.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: A frighteningly smug Gomez joins Benjamin and Irene on the elevator, having just been released. No one says a word, but the discomfort is terrifying.
  • Underestimating Badassery: Gomez in regards to Pablo in the stadium scene.
  • Undying Loyalty:
    • Ricardo to his late wife - poignantly enough to motivate Benjamin to take on this seemingly impossible case.
    • Gomez is a dying fan of Racing de Avellaneda, which narrows down his whereabouts.
    • Pablo to Benjamin, even if the latter is drunk.
      • Benjamin speculates that Gomez stopped pursuing him and Irene because he assumes that Pablo impersonated him when Gomez sent some cronies to assassinate Benjamin at his apartment and was killed as a result; Gomez actually stopped pursuing Benjamin and Irene because Ricardo kidnapped him shortly after Benjamin's flight and has kept him behind bars for 25 years.
  • Vigilante Man: Ricardo tries to do this by calling a suspect's mother, which ends up causing the suspect to flee. Later, once the killer is caught and subsequently released, he tries a much more direct approach, successfully.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Benjamin and Pablo.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Irene saves Benjamin by storming him to Jujuy (northern Argentina) and assures him that her father will keep her safe. She later tells him that in hindsight, Benjamin should have told her to go with him right then and there not only because she loves him, but also because she's a target too.