Bardo (False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths) is a movie directed by the Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu and released in 2022. Distributed on Netflix, the film is a long, poetic vision that collects several unreal situations, and it’s normal for the viewer to wonder what the plot is about, what its meaning is, and where the inspiration comes from. In this article, we will have all this explained to facilitate the understanding of the movie.
You can watch the official trailer for Bardo here on Youtube.
Bardo explained: the meaning of the movie and its inspiration
Bardo is a symbolic movie representing the imaginary visions of a man slowly passing from life to death. During the film, the spectator views surreal scenes that lay on the border between reality and imagination, believing that they are the way the protagonist Silverio Gama depicts reality. At the end of the movie, though, we are brought back to the initial scene where Silverio is on the metro in California, and we discover that he had a stroke on that trip. We also recognize the chattering on TV as part of the visions we saw at the beginning of the movie, as proof that the entire sequence of images comes from that particular state between life and death where the protagonist is.
The movie’s title confirms this: the meaning of the word “Bardo” comes from Buddhism. It refers to an intermediate state between death and rebirth that people experience when the consciousness leaves the physical body and enters a transition phase. Knowing the title’s meaning while watching the movie, we are led to believe that death (and rebirth) will be an essential element of the plot, and we recognize its presence in the last part of the vision.
But Bardo is not just that: it’s also a movie full of surrealist representations of reality, where the director gives full, free expression of his imagery without the typical constraints & rules of classic cinema. From this point of view, critics have drawn a reasonable connection with Federico Fellini’s 8½, one of the most famous movies in the history of cinema: it has been defined as “the movie that never was” because Fellini actually forgot the ideas he had for it just before the production started. It then became a chaotic sequence of surreal images coming from his imagination, intertwining his thoughts, feelings, and experiences with fantasy representations. An “existential circus,” as critics have defined it. And Iñárritu makes no secret of this inspiration: you can easily recognize Bardo‘s opening scene as a direct homage to 8½ start. Below you can watch how Fellini’s movie begins, with the protagonist levitating in the sky, seeing his shadow on the ground.
It’s not the only homage you will find in the movie. The scene where Silverio Gama faces the criticism of his old friend Luis resembles very closely a scene from Fellini’s 8½, where a movie critic exposes the director’s deceit: an artist who has nothing to say and therefore reveals his own thoughts, hoping that the form he uses for that, the surrealist style that characterizes him, will be enough to “make a movie.” We can say that, with that scene, Iñárritu has basically explained Bardo to us.
That also means that Bardo, as 8½, also has many autobiographical elements. Silverio Gama is a Mexican filmmaker who’s receiving an American award for the first time in history, and similarly, Iñárritu was the first Mexican director to be nominated (and to win) an Academy Award as Best Director. From this point of view, Bardo also exposes Iñárritu’s feelings about his role as an artist and a father. His perspective on the contrast between the United States and Mexico, the impostor syndrome, and his inability to appreciate what he achieves, all these elements are surely taken from his personal, real visions, as also his thoughts about parenting.
Besides being a movie about life and death, about Mexico and the United States, about being a renowned artist and a father, after all, Bardo is a movie that celebrates art, and there is no better way to have it explained: with this film, Iñárritu clearly asserts the superiority of art over reality, at the point that he allows his artistic, visionary approach to take over and “become” the movie, filling the vision with references of any kind (one among many: did you recognize Radiohead’s Just?), and leaving plot, message and content in general on the background. If you want to truly appreciate it, therefore, we suggest you to relax, stop expecting something “to happen” and enjoy it as a surrealist work of art.