Evaluating Lana Del Rey’s Chola Fantasy Film, “Tropico”

Lana Del Rey’s short film Tropico is a campy, fever dream take on what happens to the American Dream when engulfed by the arts and leisure and youthful rebellion approach, and are apparent disguises for the search for love and acceptance. It begins in expected Del Rey fashion, which is visually slithering and vivid as we are introduced to her chosen representatives of four different aspects of Americana culture. In the most cotton candy depiction of the Book of Genesis’ Paradise, Del Rey is Eve and her co-star (model) Shaun Ross is Adam, as they writhe around in red roses swimsuit-style outfits (thankfully however, nothing about this feels sacrilegious).

Yet before we can witness their dance to “Body Electric”, her icons are a macho John Wayne, an animated Elvis Presley, an aloof Marilyn Monroe, and (a white) concerned Jesus, who are all on the other side, sharing tidbits of guidance and random thoughts. Seemingly all together, they symbolize control, charisma, seduction, and tolerance, all of which are motifs in Del Rey’s passion project. Del Rey also plays a low-whispering Virgin Mary in an off-corner and from the jump, Tropico is nothing what you thought it was going to be and yet, if you’re familiar with Del Rey, so apt to her lingering homage to amalgamating the old and new values of Hollywood, relationship roles, and how happiness is a universal want, but possibly disparate from one person to the other.

Six minutes later, the film fast-forwards to modern day East Los Angeles, and quickly it is recognized that we’ve seen this kind of experience before and through the cultural appropriation of a white girl in such films as Havoc and Thirteen. It’s their walk on the wild side. Visually it is mesmerizing, color coded to a kind of slight, old reel, documentary style, and there is barely any dialogue aside from Del Rey’s husky voice that briefly narrates and is soothing to the ears, even when sharing thoughts of melancholia (and reciting a Walt Whitman poem). Tropico is technically a short film, but it feels more like a super extended music video and a day in the life of extremely stylized young people. As you watch Del Rey gyrating at the strip club, her boyfriend utterly lackadaisical at his day job in a bodega, and shots of them and their cholo/chola friends just hanging outside for the second segment for “Gods and Monsters”, these “characters” aren’t asking you to feel pity for them, but Tropico does lack for much of its run in transferring genuine emotion (until the last part for the glowing “Bel Air”). Until “Bel Air” begins, it just looks cool, and is a balmy, personal tribute to Americana’s underbelly of the struggle when intertwined with seedy counterculture. After an attempted robbery, a flashback shot of Del Rey and Ross is shown in which they exchange dialogue once and he tells her to chill, and she nods and smirks with “OK” and a giggle. With that giggle of hers, it’s as if nothing really matters, and what does, Del Rey’s damsel in limbo await for now for better days.

It all ends when Del Rey and Ross, who remain unnamed, drive into a beautiful field in a turn for repent as they arrived wearing black and then before we know it, change into pure white. She wears a long sheer gown and he’s in a tank top and matching slacks. “Bel Air” is the most affecting part of Tropico as the couple say goodbye to their epiphanies and allow room for forgiveness amongst themselves and hopefully the powers that be. It is really is beautiful and while most of Tropico was fashionably bizarre, it was all worth it for the “Bel Air” segment as they fly up into the sky and the rest is up to their destiny.

Directed by Anthony Mandler, watch Tropico for Lana Del Rey is supremely underrated in America, though her fanbase is quite strong. It’s actually more thoughtful and challenging than you’d want to acknowledge until after it’s wrapped (like who are the real Gods and monsters during middle of the film) Del Rey is one of very few artists right now that while embodies a bygone era, is extremely eloquent in her visions, whether they be violent, majestic, or quietly eccentric.

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