What are you hiding?
It’s a question that is more often fit for the characters of a mystery than those in a coming-of-age narrative. Yet Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón’s masterful Y Tu Mamá También (And Your Mother, Too) asks—and answers—this question in a refreshingly objective way. The film follows a pair of teenaged friends, Tenoch and Julio, as they try to seduce an older woman, Luisa, by taking her on a road trip to the isolated and idyllic beaches of Mexico.
On the surface, this is a hormone-driven, sexually graphic tale of experimentation and aging. But the personal and relational dynamics of Y Tu Mamá También are deepened and magnified by the film’s omniscient narrator. With a cold separation from Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa, the narrator tells us everything that the adventurous trio will not. The friendship between the two young men falls apart in jagged tears as they trek across the desolate backcountry of Mexico. They spend most of their time saving face and acting like people should on a trip with friends; the narrator tells the other half of the story. He reveals the subtle but damaging class difference between Tenoch and Julio, and also illuminates important realizations the characters make but never share. Luisa, too, has secrets to keep. Her marriage is in collapse, among other things, and Tenoch and Julio only get rare glimpses of her pain through shattered windows and accidental intrusions.
“The truth is totally amazing, but you can never reach it,” Julio says. But the trio of friends could reach their truth, if only they would allow themselves to see it and talk about it. This is where the film gets its tragedy—and its power. What Luisa hides from everyone, including the boys, is so irrevocable and character-defining that it warrants a second viewing. Tenoch and Julio’s suppression, however, is much more apparent. The young men are brazenly sexual; the first two scenes are, respectively, Tenoch and Julio fully nude and having sex with their girlfriends. Passing their time in a cloud of marijuana smoke, they discuss any and all sexual encounters—real or imagined—in detail. They break into wrestling matches, and are often shown showering and swimming naked together, totally unashamed. Most notably, they masturbate together, finding pleasure in their conjunction. Yet they would never consider these to be shared sexual experiences.
[spoilers follow] Toward the end of their journey, Tenoch, Julio, and Luisa have group sex. When the young men wake up, one of them hurriedly dresses, and the other runs outside to vomit. They are mortified by the prospect that they kissed and did who-knows-what-else offscreen, but if we’re looking at the unsaid details, it only makes sense. The suppressed sexual tension between the two had to boil over whether or not they were fully conscious of its existence. Masculinity, in a social sense, is what kept them from understanding and revealing the truth about their curiosity, but it also turns out to be the glue holding their friendship together. By the film’s sobering end, that glue is dried, chipped, and falling away.
This is smartly foreshadowed in one of the many conversations they have with Luisa on their way to the beach. Tenoch and Julio discuss a friend, Daniel, who recently came out to his friends and family. They insist that they do not care about his sexuality and still treat him the same, but they also admit that they do not see him anymore. Something about Daniel embracing his true self opened up doors for him to pursue other things, other people. It’s likely that he had a legitimate friendship with Tenoch and Julio, but, just as with the pair later on, the glue of the hetero-masculinity Daniel felt he had to project while in the closet is what sustained the friendship. Once he was out, he could form different relationships that were truer to himself while also finding a more fulfilling happiness.
The night Tenoch and Julio share with Luisa goes the other way. It is less a coming out and more an inner realization for both of them, and what they find inside themselves is shame and a suffocatingly large elephant in the room. Their friendship soon ends because, as they’ve done all their lives, they refuse to allow certain details of their lives to come to light. They are unhappy with and unproud of what lies beneath, and they shy away from anyone who knows about it. This is the truth that Cuarón reaches, and it is not an amazing one. People don’t show everyone, or sometimes anyone, the complete picture of who they are. And if they do, they might not like what they find on the other side.