The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
Page copy protected against web site content infringement by Copyscape
Send this page to Twitter!  

THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



If you paid even a bit of attention to the news in 2000, you undoubtedly remember Elián Gonzalez. The boy, who was just five years old at the time, was discovered by two fishermen off the coast of Florida, clinging to an inner tube. It was soon discovered that he and his mother were fleeing Cuba. He made it, she didn't. Gonzalez quickly found himself in the middle of a political firestorm – and one in the media, as well – as the United States government attempted to figure out whether to send him back to his father in Cuba or let him stay with his relatives in Miami. Even if you remember this incident well, the extraordinary documentary Elián will provide you with inside details you were probably unaware of.

Directed by Tim Golden and Ross McDonald, the film takes us through the entire incident step by step, starting with the men who rescued Elián talking about their unexpected discovery. From there, it segues into a look at how his relatives in America, specifically cousin Marisleysis González, made every effort to give him the kind of life his mother clearly desired for him. Marisleysis is interviewed about the deep bond she developed with Elián, as is his father, Juan Miguel González Quintana, who fought to get Elián back, since he had no knowledge of his son's forced journey to the United States.

Then Elián gets really interesting, digging deep into the perfect storm of politics that put the boy into national headlines for months. With great reporting precision, the documentary demonstrates how everyone had motivations for their respective stances. The U.S. government, particularly then-Attorney General Janet Reno, wanted to follow the law and avoid a flare-up with Cuba. Fidel Castro saw it as a point of nationalism, a way of rallying his people in pride. Cuban refugees in the U.S. viewed letting him stay as a way of handing Castro a humiliating defeat. Elián's father just wanted his son back, while his relatives in America wanted to honor his mother's wishes. Making matters more complicated was that Elián himself was too young to really grasp the dynamics of what was happening, so he couldn't register a preference. Videos are shown of him alternately saying he wanted to go back to Cuba and stay in America.

Elián really captures the essence of the story, which is that it was never fully about a child. Elián Gonzalez came to represent a lot of things: the hope of a better future for the Cuban people, national pride, a way of registering opposition to Castro, the desire to carry out a deceased family member's wishes, and so on. If the whole situation seemed weirdly elongated and out of control, the movie shows why. Because the level of detail on every front is so great, Elián sucks you right in, examining a piece of history from all different angles until you understand it in a whole new light.

Of particular note is that Elián Gonzales himself is interviewed for the film. He provides some intermittent perspective on his story, but is featured most during the final fifteen minutes. Golden and McDonald show what he's up to now. You might be surprised. No spoilers for those unaware, but one of the commentors in the documentary argues that what happened in America made Elián the person he is today. That's a cogent argument. The young man we see is passionate, articulate, and in possession of a firm set of political beliefs.

There is something curious here, though. We all remember the famous picture of an armed federal agent attempting to take the visibly terrified boy from his home during a raid. It seems like a natural to ask him about that, yet it never happens. Did the filmmakers simply not ask him, or did he decline to speak of it? The omission seems odd, constituting the only time when the film doesn't provide a wealth of information.

That one minor misstep aside, Elián is a vital and spellbinding documentary that dissects a fascinating moment in American history. Don't miss it.

( 1/2 out of four)

Elian is unrated, but contains mature subject matter and some adult language. The running time is 1 hour and 47 minutes.

Buy a copy of my book, "Straight-Up Blatant: Musings From The Aisle Seat," on sale now at! Paperback and Kindle editions also available at!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.