Like Water for Chocolate is a movie based on a novel written by a Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel. The novel is also titled Like Water for Chocolate. The movie was produced and directed by Alphonso Arau. It is based on the serious political, social and moral issues in its time. They are still very much relevant to date. Its production is at the time when the traditions of the Mexican culture required the youngest daughter to cater for her mother until her demise. Because of the traditions, a young girl, Tita, is not allowed to get married. This is a source of the battle between the protagonist Tita looking for her true love and freedom away from her mother, Mama Elena, who is a main antagonist. The movie uses Tata’s love for cooking and her kitchen recipes to develop its structure.
Traditions forbid Tita from marrying since she is Elena’s youngest daughter (Esquivel, 1992). This is because the youngest daughter is assigned the role of taking care of her aged mother. It is assumed that marriage may impair her ability to look after her mother. Pedro, Tita’s love, approaches Elena for her daughter’s hand for marriage. However, Elena rebuffs the request and instead offers him, Rosaura, Tita’s elder sister. Pedro agrees to marry Rosaura but later admits his true intention of doing so in order to be closer to Tita. He thinks that is the only way to maintain her proximity to Tita. Pedro agrees to live with Rosaura on the ranch, therefore, bringing him closer to Tita. Tita’s magical recipe is witnessed as she prepares a meal with rose petals she has received from Pedro. This sends Tita’s sister, Gertrude, into a lustful state; and she ends up eloping with a revolution soldier.
Such intense images of fire in the novel are used to portray strong emotions. The novel’s title suggests that water should be heated to the boiling point before hot chocolate can be made from it. However, in the movie, this heat is used to symbolize strong emotions that cannot be contained. This is evident when Gertrude elopes. It is also manifested in Pedro’s gaze at Tita when being in the shower and on his death.
The movie also centers the viewers’ attention on some issues affecting the roles and lifestyles of women in this society but from a feminine point of view. Women are confined to their traditional household chores, while men are hardly present. This can perhaps be explained by the men’s engagement in the ongoing war. Women are depicted as prisoners of cultural shackles. These cultural limits are ironically inflicted upon them by their fellow women. This is well illustrated when Tita is denied her marriage to Pedro.
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Pedro and Rosaura wed; and Nacha, the maid and Tita had to bear the burden of all the preparations. Elena has warned Tita not to ruin the wedding. She and Nacha finally have lost it in the kitchen and ended up weeping. Tita makes a cake soggy with her tears. Later Tita has a run in with Pedro in the garden. He tries to explain himself to her, but he is unsuccessful. Despite Tita’s relationship with Pedro being a painfully kept secret, Elena insists she must attend her sister’s wedding. Pedro takes an advantage of this and confesses to her his true intentions of marrying Rosaura. Immediately after eating the cake, everybody becomes melancholic and soon starts having heartaches and vomiting, thus, ruining the wedding. Elena accuses Tita of intentionally poisoning guests; and when she is almost beating her up, she is informed of Nacha’s death from the heartbreak. She suffers as a result of tasting the cake.
Tita’s hallucinations before the wedding are outward manifestations of her heartache (Esquivel, 1993). She focuses on the whiteness of the wedding cake and the wedding dress, which is meant to show the purity of her emotions in contrast to the impure union between Pedro and Rosaura. Here, we see how a mere expression of Tita’s sadness is amplified as shown by the effects of the cake. The wedding proceeds but the wedding dress ends up ruined due to vomiting. This scene casts the union of Pedro and Rosaura as impure. That it was not meant to be.
Nacha’s death leaves Tita as a head cook with no confidant. Pedro presents her with a bunch of roses, which she is ordered to throw out but decides to prepare a sauce with them. This meal serves to communicate their illicit love that culminates into Gertrude being filled with the intense lust. This portrays the female sexuality within the movie. Tita contains her passion, but Gertrude expresses her sexuality openly as shown in the shower.
Rosaura is pregnant with Pedro’s child. She is helped to deliver the baby by Tita. Rosaura is unable to produce milk. Therefore, the responsibility of taking care for young Roberto is left to Tita. Her compassion for Roberto enables her to lactate and breastfeed the kid.
The meeting between Tita and Pedro in the kitchen transforms her to an experienced woman without having to touch her. Pedro’s staring transforms her into the woman as she passively lets her clothes fall so that he can clearly view her breasts. In the movie, she exposes her sexuality more passively, and this is an only bold action she takes so far. She breastfeeds the child she has never given birth to. This is a symbol of the mother’s love while the act of exposing her breasts to Pedro gives the perception similar to her offering herself as though she has never served food.
The erotic bonding between them in the kitchen enables Tita to come to the age sexually and, thus, to produce milk like a truly pregnant woman. Breastfeeding Roberto creates an even stronger bond between Tita and Pedro. Their desire is channeled through the young kid. Elena senses something going on between these two ones and with an excuse of seeking a better medication for Rosaura, she has Pedro, Rosaura and Roberto move to San Antonio. This crushes Tita.
Roberto dies in San Antonio. Elena does not want anyone to mourn, but Tita accuses her of killing the child as she could feed him with her breast milk. Elena strikes her with a wooden spoon and Tita goes into a catatonic state in her dove-coat. Elena orders that Tita be taken to an asylum. She is covered in a bedspread she has been crocheting in her time of sorrow which is now almost a kilometer long. The length of the crocheted bedspread signifies how much grief Tita is experiencing due to her love for Pedro.
Tita, for the first time, confronts Elena and asserts her beliefs, though Elena fights back by hitting her with the spoon. By lying naked in the dove coat covered in bird droppings, she shows that her body is merely a source of pain and no longer of pleasure (Russel, 2012).
Tita grows closer to Dr.John while recovering in his house, though she remains silent. He teaches her how to make matches and explains that there is the fire within everyone; and how this fire must be protected. This is the first time Tita is moved away from the ranch. She realizes she also has matches inside her but cannot light that inner fire because whenever she tried her match was put off by someone.
A visit by Chencha from De La Garza ranch with an ox-tail soup restores Tita’s stability. This is the first recipe she can remember since becoming sick. Tita also learns that Gertrude now works in a brothel. She sends Chencha back with the news to Elena that she will not return to the ranch. She opts to start a new life with Dr.John, who has proposed the marriage to her. Before delivering the news to Elena, the ranch is attacked by bandits; and Chencha is raped. Elena becomes paraplegic. Tita is forced to go back to the ranch to take care of the duo. Elena refuses of Tita’s food believing it to be poisoned. She only takes food prepared by Chencha. While Chencha is away, Tita prepares food for Elena. Unfortunately, Elena fires Chencha for not being around to cook her food. With Chencha gone, Tita resumes her normal duty of cooking for Elena. Within a month, Elena finally dies. Tita discovers a small key that belongs to Elena in the course of the funeral. The key opens a small box that contains secrets to Elena’s love life. Tita learns that Elena was once in a forbidden relationship with a mulatto who Elena had apparently planned to elope with. The man ended up getting murdered. She was, thus, forced into a loveless marriage with Tita’s father.
The injury inflicted on Elena and the rape of Chencha reduces the two women to mere objects of a male abuse. Elena’s vulnerability is exposed with the absence of Tita, who is the customary target of her frustrations. Upon Tita’s return, Elena tries to assert her authority on her once more. This is an attempt to counter Tita’s new found freedom with Dr. John. Refusing Tita’s healing food is the last known way she employs as she desperately seeks to keep hold of her daughter. Poisoning herself in the attempt to counteract Tita’s healing food can be symbolic to her many years of living bitterly. Tita’s maturity is exhibited when she is willing to overlook Elena’s cruelty towards her. This is after learning Elena’s uneventful love life. In addition, she realizes that there is also someone else who had loved against the will of others. Consequently, Tita resolves to continue pursuing her love.
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Pedro and Rosaura have a second child; this time, this is a girl. They name her Esperanza after Tita refuses the child to be named after her. Rosaura cannot have any more children; and, thus, Esperanza is her youngest daughter by default. Tita is closely involved in raising the young girl. This makes Rosaura very jealous. Rosaura admits to Tita’s worst fears by announcing that she will not allow Esperanza to marry. She is filled with rage that can be referred to as “like water for chocolate”, the term used when water is brought to almost the boiling point before being used to prepare chocolate (Giannotti, 1999). Chencha returns to the ranch happily married. This frees Tita from the kitchen duties. She uses this relief to get prepared for John’s arrival. John asks for Tita’s hand in marriage since she is the head of the household; and she agrees albeit begrudgingly. John later leaves to bring his only living aunt from America for the wedding ceremony. Tita cleans the kitchen after dinner; and she is confronted by Pedro. He takes her to a small room used by Elena as a bathroom. There they make love, hence, breaking Tita’s virginity. This scene makes use of heat to bring out the strong violent emotions that are in conflict within Tita leading to her loss of virginity. The strong anger she feels towards Rosaura, coupled with confusions over John. He makes her aware of the fire inside her; and Pedro, who deflowers her, makes the situation unbearable for Tita. The phosphorous light that emanates from the room when they make love depicts the lack of Tita’s control over her emotions. Therefore, her sexuality can be described as an object of her lover’s desire. This shows that though she seeks to find the true love chances of this for the women of her time are very minimal.
Tita fears she may be pregnant with Pedro’s child and may have to cancel her wedding. Rosaura seeks help from Tita concerning her weight; and this shows the power Tita wields over her due to Pedro’s lust for her. The food to Rosaura, unlike to Tita, is a source of reduced self-esteem. Tita sees Elena’s ghost cursing her child. This shows the power Elena wields over her even in death. The cursing shows Tita’s fear of getting pregnant with Pedro’s child and the backlash from the society.
Gertrude returns to the ranch accompanied by her husband’s army. Pedro gets the news of Tita’s pregnancy. He is very happy about it. He even contemplates running away with Tita but the thought of leaving his young family holds him back. He decides to continue staying with his family. Tita’s sense of individuality finally banishes Elena’s ghost from her life. This gets rid of the pregnancy guilt; and her body is back to normal. However, Elena’s ghost unleashes its wrath on Pedro; and a fireball sets his entire body on fire. Pedro cries out, and when Rosaura comes out to comfort him, he chooses to be comforted by Tita instead.
Tita’s ability to banish her mother shows she has broken away from the traditions imposed on her by her mother and the society, as a whole. She embraces the American concept of independence taught to her by John. By being able to make her pregnancy disappear, Tita has mastered her individuality. This contrasts with her earlier depictions as a nurturer. From this picture, it is shown that Tita thinks about the society’s perception. Therefore, this acts as a hindrance to her power over her own individuality. The termination of the pregnancy shows her new found control over her own body.
Tita confronts Rosaura for ‘stealing her boyfriend’. This distinguishes their personalities; Tita is portrayed as a successful nurturer and Rosaura – as a failed mother (Giannotti, 1999). Rosaura deflects the blame for her marriage to Pedro by referring to Tita as a loose woman. She vows never again to touch Pedro and lets him pursue Tita to fulfill his sexual desires. To her, sexuality is about shame and not desire or love. Later, John listens with understanding to Tita’s confession; and this portrays him as a wiser man than any other characters depicted in the novel.
Many years have passed, and there is a wedding preparation for Esperanza and Alex, who happens to be John Brown’s son. Rosaura refuses to let her daughter marry, but she finally dies. Her wedding is not properly attended due to an unbearable stench. Her death enables her daughter to get married. Pedro and Tita are finally left alone in the ranch. They make love without any interference for the first time. She feels Pedro’s rapid heartbeat which finally ceases as he dies. She tries to spark the fire by consuming matches. When coming from their honeymoon, Esperanza and Alex find the ranch burnt down. The only thing left is Tita’s cookbook.
The final act of passion ends up in the tragedy for Tita and Pedro. Pedro passes through the act of fire uninitiated, while Tita is taking an initiative to follow him there. Unlike before in their past erotic encounters, when Pedro was always active while Tita passive, this time she takes the initiative and lights up her inner fire in order to get to him. Alex’s and Esperanza’s wedding signals a new lease of life for the De La Garza’s family. Burning down the ranch signals doing away with the past traditions and shows the beginning of something new. Tita, though death, achieves what she had always fought for when she was still alive. The cookbook left behind contains the wisdom scattered throughout the movie. Esperanza and Alex can finally build their own legacy from their cross-cultural marriage that is free from sorrow.