“The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” is a modern western, and for me, is, oddly enough, equal parts David Lynch and Todd Solondz. But with it’s unflinching look at attitudes toward immigration and the humanism we may all have within us somewhere, the mythic West is used to explore politics and oppressions that we are concerned about today. The brutal realism with which the characters are portrayed does not make for fun or casual viewing. If you have not seen this film, and chances are good that if you only see films at the theater you missed this one, be warned of mild spoilers ahead.
The idea of “Jimenez”, the small and beautiful town that Melquiades says he is from, is an interesting concept to explore. Pete discovers that Jimenez is a ruin of crumbled stone walls in the middle of a small glen of trees. The name is made up. Also made up is Melquiades’ relationship with the woman and children whose picture he shows to Pete. He claims them as his family, yet they have never heard of Melquiades Estrada.
Living a quiet life in America, where Estrada stays low-key and must deal with the pressure of being found and forced back to Mexico, he has created a mythical life, an oasis in his mind that makes him happy. His life in Mexico must have been as solitary as his apparent exile in America. We begin to wonder exactly what Melquiades did in the ruins he named Jimenez and how he came to be there. We can believe that the solitude and natural beauty of the place created a safe haven for him, perhaps the only one he has ever known.
Or is Jimenez a symbol of lost dreams? A dead and crumbled town standing in for happiness could point to a life of hardship that never had a moment of real happiness. His choice of lies may indicate that even his inner life has been beaten into submission.
Every character in “The Three Burials” creates a fantasy world. But none ever achieve any permanent connection to it. Beauty remains fantasy just as reality remains harsh.
The creation of a comforting place, where one can relax and allow our troubles to dissipate, is what many of us aim for. Hopefully that place can be real and not just a fantasy. If it doesn’t exist around us, perhaps we need to create it for ourselves. But even then, its existence may be fleeting.