Like hearing an unresolved chord, seeing Cary Joji Fukunaga’s film Sin Nombre demands a response. Whether this stems from the characters’ outpouring of good or the capacity for evil you witness in them is hard to tell.
Sin Nombre, Fukunaga’s feature debut—which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January—takes viewers on the brutal freight train passage to the U.S. border from Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and Chiapas, Mexico. Men with mismatched shoes and dry hands, women wearing shirts two sizes too small, and confused children scramble for dusty packs and prepare to jump aboard their ride to “the American dream.” Most will face a spectrum of unpleasant outcomes—loss of limbs, dehydration, banditos, rape, separation from the group, deportation by Mexican immigration authorities, death. Only the resilient and lucky will arrive at the border unscarred.
Willy (played by Edgar Flores), a tattooed thug in the notoriously violent Central American gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, hopes to escape a street life of destitution. Accompanied by an innocent sidekick, Sayra (played by Paulina Gaitan), he learns the cost of betrayal and sacrifice. “A psychic once told me,” Sayra whispers to Willy, “‘you’ll make it to the USA—not in God’s hands, but in the hands of the devil.’” Sayra indeed makes compromises on the route north, including dangerous exchanges with MS-13.
This script mirrors the story of hundreds of thousands of Central American immigrants making the treacherous journey to the U.S., a country where one of five U.S. children is living in an immigrant family and the abbreviations DHS, ICE, and INS have permanently entered our nation’s lexicon.