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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Embrace of the Serpent': A Spellbinding Odyssey Through the Heart of the Amazon Rainforest

Movie poster for the film Embrace of the Serpent starring Jan Bijvoet, Nilbio Torres and Antonio Bolívar

“Embrace of the Serpent” (“El Abrazo de la Serpiente”) is a spellbinding Colombian/Venezuelan/Argentinian adventure drama from 2015 that alternates between two parallel narratives ensuing 30 years apart, both entailing arduous exploration of the Amazon rainforest in search of the rare psychotropic yakruna plant.

Each of the dual storylines center on the character of Karamakate, a locally renowned shaman and the last remaining survivor of his ancient tribe. As a young man in 1909 (portrayed by Nilbio Torres), he leads German scientist Theo von Martius (Jan Bijvoet) in search of the sacred yakruna, while in 1940 (portrayed by Antonio Bolívar) he assists American botanist Evan (Brionne Davis) on an analogous journey, hoping to complete Theo’s quest. Both treks entail thrilling and enervating challenges, physically and emotionally, as the intrepid explorers strain against the darker forces of nature and humanity in the pursuit of the mythical botanical treasure.

Steeped in historical context and beset by a powerful affinity to nature and transcendentalism, “Embrace of the Serpent” is a visceral and profoundly inspiring creation inspired by the true-life exploits of Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Evans Schultes. Co-written and directed by Ciro Guerra (“Birds of Passage”, “Waiting for the Barbarians”) and aided immeasurably by David Gallego’s mesmerizing black-and-white cinematography, it’s a wonderfully unique, strikingly spiritual and rousingly psychedelic experience worthy of awareness and consideration.


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