‘I’m No Longer Here’ is a very unique coming-of-age tale that unfolds itself from the perspective of a young Mexican immigrant. It shows how its main character first struggles to deal with cultural alienation only to eventually learn that he doesn’t have a choice but to adapt to all the changes that life is throwing at him. The film has been structured in such a way that almost every action of the protagonist turns out to be consequential and eventually leads to the film’s bittersweet ending. Speaking of the ending, here’s an in-depth explanation of it.
Why Does Ulises Move to New York?
In the early scenes of the film, it is established that Ulises is the leader of his crew of dancers, known as the ‘Los Terkos’. Instead of delving into the world of crime like many other youths of their community, the members of ‘Los Terkos’ spend their days attending carnivals and flaunting their dandy dance moves and style. However, since Ulises’ elder brother was once involved with the local cartels, he maintains a cordial relationship with them.
Later in the movie, one of the members of the Los Terkos manages to get his hands on a cop’s two-way radio phone. Believing that it could be an asset for his brother’s ex-cartel gang, Ulises decides to give it to them. That’s when an opposing gang gets there and surprises them with a drive-by shootout. Everyone, except for Ulises, gets shot and this leads to the misunderstanding that Ulises is involved with the rival gang. When Ulises gets death threats, his mother sends him to New York.
Ulises: A Terko
After being forced to flee out of his hometown, Ulises apprehensively starts a new life. But to his dismay, his commitment to this new life is often tested. He works construction with some fellow Latinos who often make fun of his hairstyle. The fact that he speaks little to no English makes things even worse for him. One night, he manages to grab the attention of young women through his dance moves, and that’s when out of jealousy, his Spanish co-workers insult his music. Ulises, who was finally getting some attention for his cultural identity, loses his temper, smashes a rack to the ground, and leaves their home. He later gets jumped by them and is also left unemployed.
In his loneliness, Ulises still refuses to give up on his identity and finds his escape in the music that he plays on his mp3 player. There comes a time when he tries to use his impressive dance skills to earn a living in the streets of New York. Unfortunately, no one truly appreciates it. There’s a particular scene where Ulises can be seen dancing in a public space and getting the appreciation that he craves. But that’s when a cop gets there and asks him for a permit to street perform. The cop even attempts to help him but the language barrier gets in his way and Ulises assumes that he is being asked to leave. Almost throughout the film’s runtime, Ulises remains a “Terko”—refusing to adapt and not willing to change his attitude.
Lin: Another Outsider
Ulises later meets Lin who seemingly sees a reflection of herself in him. She comforts him by complimenting his style and tries to know him despite their language barriers. But later, as soon as Lin starts getting along with her own American school mates, she starts ignoring Ulises. In the end, instead of being a reflection of Ulises’ character, she turns out to be the opposite. Unlike Ulises, Lin always wanted to fit into her new world but being an immigrant didn’t really help. She was with Ulises as long as she was considered unacceptable by her other friends. Her characterizations simply show how both sides of the coin are not very different. Like her, if Ulises adapted to change, his life would still be no better.
In the end, when all doors close on him, Ulises chops of his hair, which previously had a crucial role to play in his cultural identity. Yet, he still tries to head back home. When he finally reaches home, almost nothing is as it used to be. His friends are no involved with gangs and have completely given up on their “cool” ‘Los Terkos’ demeanors. The identity that he was holding onto all this while is now lost in the strands of time and his hometown is no different from the harrowing streets of New York, where he struggled to find himself.
In the closing scene of the movie, Ulises anxiously observes his small town from a distance that now brims with criminal activities. He was once the glue that held his group together and prevented them from getting involved in crime. But after he left, everything in his town changed and it will never be the same. Even in the closing moments, instead of accepting his reality, Ulises chooses to be a “terko” and gets lost in his music. That’s when the battery of his music player dies and snaps him back to his reality. The ending shows how even someone as stubborn as Ulises eventually has to give in to the changes that time brings with itself.
Read More: I’m No Longer Here Review