Pain and Glory is a brilliantly written film. Every moment and line of dialogue counts.
Salvador is a screenwriter plagued with chronic pain all over his body. He spends a solid minute going into the details, from having tinnitus, cluster headaches, back pain, etc. His detailed explanation of how much pain he suffers in the beginning helps us learn who he is: a man battling pain constantly.
The film starts with Salvador reliving his childhood, listening to his mother and aunts sing as they do laundry. This moment of reminiscing sets the tone for the entire film, and it is only mentioned at the end that Salvador has been missing his mother, hence all the flashbacks, which are brilliantly set up as what they are. It feels like a flashback.
Granted, Salvador is getting high off heroin or falling asleep as he reminisces, but that is what makes each flashback so powerful to me. They don’t feel like an intentional literary device used to help the audience understand the character. They feel like the character stepping back in time and remembering happier days. Yes, all of the flashbacks explain something, but the way they come across on the screen is so . . . real to me.
It felt like we were watching memories, not learning more about our character. I know no other way to explain this, other than each flashback felt organic and purposeful, but not written with the intention to explain something to us.
Anyways. . .
The score for this film was beautiful and filled me with a sense of nostalgia as well. I found myself waiting for each flashback, wanting to see more of Salvador’s childhood. The color saturation played a role as well. Salvador’s childhood is warm-toned and cheerful with bright lighting while his present life is icy cold and blue.
This difference in color scheme let the audience in on Salvador’s thoughts and overall mood. Salvador’s depression is mentioned near the end of the film, which explains the cool-toned color saturation and frequent flashbacks. He misses his mom and he misses his youth – and every frame of what he yearns for is colored with warmth. The contrast is striking and I found myself wanting more scenes from his childhood, much like he did.
I thought that the few mentions of Salvador’s depression was well done because you could still see the impact his mental health had on him throughout the film, but it isn’t mentioned because it is a fact of life for him, much like his homosexuality is.
After reuniting with Alberto, a former friend who he fell out with, Salvador is surprised by his new friend’s drug of choice: heroin.
For reasons unclear, Salvador is eager for heroin in the beginning of the film and every time he indulges, we see his past. He spends much of his film high and running from his present life of pain and depression. He can’t write anymore and instead decides to waste away after establishing a solid method of sneaking heroin into his life.
After visiting Salvador at his house, Alberto takes it upon himself to read some of Salvador’s old drafts while Salvador is sleeping off the heroin. Alberto is amazed by the script, titled Addiction, and he pleads for Salvador to let him be him, as Salvador is telling a story of how heroin ruined the life of “Marcelo”, an old friend he lived with back in Madrid.
Salvador relents and lets Alberto play him on stage and “Marcelo” (Federico) comes to Alberto’s dressing room, knowing that he is “Marcelo”. It is because of Alberto that we get to see Federico and Salvador reunite.
Federico’s brief return into Salvador’s life is what pushes Salvador to clean himself up, having remembered how heroin ruined their relationship. This scene was crafted beautifully – we don’t know they cared about one another until Federico kisses Salvador on the way out. Salvador does reveal that Federico has replaced him with another man, but we don’t see their chemistry until Salvador is ushering Federico out of the door. The writing for this scene was wonderful.
However, seeing Federico is not the last thing that motivates Salvador to change. I think that seeing a painting from his childhood, which was remarkably painted by his first crush, is what officially brought Salvador back to life, and it is from that moment on that Salvador is more cheerful.
He reveals to his doctor and agent that he has been indulging in heroin and that his knee is bothering him. It’s amusing how his knee is the only thing Salvador is really worried about, and his doctor proposes a quick surgery that will have Salvador back to normal in no time. It is after this scene that Salvador sees and buys the painting.
On the day of the operation, Salvador tells his doctor the news on the operating table. This final scene left me with a sense of hope that he will live out the rest of his days revisiting his past, as he has decided to write about his “first desire”. His future flashbacks that we won’t see will still be painted in warmer tones than his current life, but his relationship with his past will be healthier. Now he is using his childhood for inspiration instead of sorrow, and I loved the “abrupt” ending after the operation.
We get to see that Salvador is “writing again”, and he said this with a smile that encouraged me back to my own keyboard. I feel that writers are susceptible to depression, given that we have the potential to be inspired by everything around us, and sometimes, we fall prey to painful reminiscing, like Salvador did. While the reminiscing can be good at times, for writing witty dialogue or heartwarming scenes, we can often get stuck in the sadder, darker moments of our past.
Seeing a depressed writer who will be plagued with chronic pain for the rest of his life decide to write again made me feel hope for myself, that the next moment of inspiration is an unknown but surely short amount of time away, and that all I have to do is stumble upon it, like Salvador did with his childhood crush’s painting.
This film made me happy after it ended and I’ll definitely try and watch it a second time.