Directed by Juan José Campanella, The Secret in Their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos (2009) is a drama based on a novel named “La pregunta de sus ojos” written by Eduardo Sacheri. The film stars Ricardo Darín as Benjamin Esposito and Soledad Villamil as Irene Hastings. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
This post includes a brief plot summary and an explanation about the ending of the film The Secret in Their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos (2009). Beware of spoilers.
The Secret in Their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos (2009) – Plot Summary
All the events take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The story follows a non linear narrative alternating between past and present moments.
Benjamin Esposito is a justice officer and together with his partner Pablo Sandoval they prosecute people. Recently, their department has hired a new chief, a young woman by the name of Irene Hastings.
One day, Esposito stumbles upon the brutal rape and murder of Liliana Coloto. The young woman was a teacher. She had recently moved to the city with her husband, Ricardo Morales. Shortly after, the police arrests two immigrant workers and accuse them of the crime.
Turns out, the police has obtained the confession illegally. They tortured the defendants in order to obtain a confession. At this point, Esposito is furious at Romano (a fellow officer) for his immoral behaviour. He knows that Romano is trying to close the case quickly, at the expense of innocent people.
During a visit to Morales’ house, Esposito takes a closer look at some of his wife’s old photos. The officer notices that many of those pictures feature a man (Isidoro Gómez) staring at her. This “hunch” prompts Esposito to go after Gómez. Despite of the efforts, there are no leads about his whereabouts.
Without a warrant, Esposito and Sandoval decide to break into Gómez’s mother’s house. Before leaving the place, Sandoval manages to grab some of the letters that Gómez wrote to his mother. The incident does not go unnoticed and the superiors reprimand Esposito and Sandoval for their “careless” actions.
Meanwhile, Gómez is still on the run. Due to the lack of new advances in the investigation, the court closes Liliana’s case.
One day, Esposito runs into Morales. Apparently, the widow has been looking for Isidoro in several train stations of the area. After seeing the desperation in Morales, Esposito asks Irene to reopen the case.
While drinking at a bar, Sandoval makes a surprising discovery. All the names mentioned in the stolen letters belong to a football team named “Racing”. Esposito and Sandoval buy tickets to the next Racing’s game in hopes of finding Isidoro in the stadium. Gómez eventually shows up in the match. The two officers chase the suspect down and then they arrest him.
During the interrogation, Irene mocks Isidoro and attacks his masculinity in order to get a confession. Gómez falls for the antics and comes forward as the culprit behind Liliana’s brutal murder. The man goes to trial and the court sentences him to prison.
However, with Romano’s help, Gómez gets out of prison and walks again in the streets as a free man. When Irene and Esposito find out about Romano’s involvement, they went to his office to confront him. After a heated discussion, both Irene and Esposito realize that there is nothing they can do to reverse the situation.
Esposito meets Morales to inform him about the whole ordeal. To his surprise, Morales remained incredibly calm during their entire conversation. The two eventually say goodbye and part ways.
A drunk Sandoval causes quite a stir at the local bar. Esposito comes to pick him up and takes his partner back to his place. Meanwhile, Esposito informs Sandoval’s wife that her husband is his apartment.
On his way home, Esposito finds that someone has broken into his house. He rushes to the bedroom and finds Sandoval’s dead body laying in the bed. In fear that he might be the next target, Esposito moves to another city.
Present Time (25 Years Later)
Twenty-five years after the events, Esposito returns to Buenos Aires. The former officer has just finished the novel that he has been working on for years.
Esposito visits Irene and asks her to read his manuscript. After finishing reading Esposito’s novel, Irene makes fun of him for never confessing his feelings to her. Unable to refute her claims, Esposito does nothing but to smile and look embarrassed.
Irene helps Esposito to track Morales’ current address. The former officer drives to a rural area. There, he finds Morales living in an isolated house. The two sit down and talk briefly about the past. Morales tells Esposito to forget what has happened and move on with his life. At this point, Morales is no longer willing to talk and tells Esposito to leave.
When Esposito tells his on-going desire to catch Gómez, Morales pulls him aside and tells him to stop. Then, he makes a shocking confession: Morales kidnapped and killed Gómez many years ago. After hearing Morales’ words, Esposito decides to leave.
While driving, Esposito reminisces about the past and drives back to Morales’ propriety. The former officer returns to the cottage and he finds Morales giving food to Gómez. The man has spent 25 years incarcerated and with no one to talk to.
During all these years, Morales refused to interact with Gómez depriving him of having any human contact possible. Then, the widow reminds Esposito that he promised him “life sentence”. In utter shock, Esposito leaves Morales and drives back to the city.
The former officer goes to visit Sandoval’s grave for the very first time. Then, Esposito rushes to Irene’s office in order to confess his feelings for her. The film ends with Irene smiling and telling Esposito to close the door.
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The Secret in Their Eyes (Novel)
The Secret in Their Eyes / El secreto de sus ojos (2009) – Ending Explained
Actually, the ending is the only sweet part about the whole film. However, before jumping into that discussion, let’s discuss some other aspects of the story that are worth mentioning.
Political / Historical Context of “The Secret in Their Eyes”
First of all, why or how did Isidoro Gómez become “untouchable”? The political and historical context of that era (1970s) is an important key to understand how Romano was able to release Isidoro back to the streets.
To put it simply, at the time, Argentina was under the rule of a dictatorship. During the 1970s, the country was experiencing a lot of political turmoil which fostered the rise of many left-wing activists. In order to combat those forces, the Government often “sponsored” right-wing groups to combat their opponents.
After confessing to Liliana’s murder, Isidoro went to prison. However, shortly after his “stay” he became an informant for the Government. According to Romano, Isidoro was doing more than gathering information about activists. He was also “eliminating” those who the Government deemed as a threat. That’s why Gómez was able to carry a gun, threat Irene and Esposito, without suffering any consequences for his actions.
Isidoro was untouchable because he was essentially working for the Government. Now, Romano did not pick Gómez by chance, he wanted to get back at Esposito.
Just a reminder, Romano tried to frame two immigrant workers for the murder of Liliana Coto. Esposito caught on what Romano was doing and reported him to his superiors. Ever since then, Romano developed a huge grudge on Esposito.
Pablo Sandoval’s Death
Now, why did Sandoval have to die? Actually, Sandoval’s death scene is Esposito’s personal narrative of the events. According to Esposito, shortly after his meeting with Romano, the man sent Isidoro to “eliminate” him. However, Gómez did not go himself. Instead, he sent his goons to take of business.
The other guys had no idea of how their target looks like. That’s why they kept asking Sandoval if he was “Esposito”. In order to protect his friend, Sandoval said yes to the men. Before dying, Sandoval made sure that he put all of Esposito’s pictures down. He wanted the henchmen to remain oblivious about killing the wrong person.
As Esposito said, this is his theory about Sandoval’s death. In reality, his partner could have also died while he was sleeping. In this scenario, the henchmen stormed into Esposito’s apartment, found Sandoval sleeping in the bedroom and shot him thinking he was “Esposito”. Who knows…
Did Ricardo Morales do the right thing?
At the end of the film, Esposito learns the truth behind Isidoro’s “disappearance” during all these years and walks away. Although, the former officer is in shock, Esposito understands that it’s not his place to judge Morales’ actions.
Now, did Morales do the right thing by keeping Gómez captive all those years? Maybe.
First of all, Isidoro is a threat to society, let’s not forget, the man is a murderer and a rapist. Therefore, he does not belong out there in the streets. However, it’s a little heartbreaking to see that “life sentence” for this monster comes at a heft cost. You see, in order to keep Gómez alive and jailed, someone needs to keep an eye on him (Ricardo Morales).
Second, the justice system failed on Ricardo Morales and Liliana Coto. Not only did the system release a criminal but it also gave him the immunity to do whatever he so pleases. Now, what kind of justice is this?
Keeping Gómez confined to small space in the middle of nowhere is not ideal. But, it’s a better solution than letting a guy like him free and roaming the streets.
As Morales once said, killing Gómez is too sweet of an ending for a guy like him. “Life in prison” seems a more suitable punishment. The man has committed countless heinous crimes without ever feeling an ounce of regret, he needs to learn his lesson.
What’s going to happen to Esposito and Irene?
The final scene hints that Esposito and Irene are going to start where they left off (25 years ago). In Irene’s case, she’ll probably have to divorce her current husband in order to be with Esposito.
After finding out what happened to Gómez during all these years, Esposito finally found the closure that he was looking for. That also gave the former officer, the courage to confess his feelings to Irene.
The judge knows that Esposito likes her, as a matter of fact, she always knew. However, Irene also finds absolutely ridiculous that this man never mustered up the courage to court her. That’s why she consistently mocks and teases him, maybe that’s her way of expressing her feelings. After all, the romantic feelings were mutual…
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The Secret in Their Eyes (2009) [DVD]
“The Secret in Their Eyes” is haunting and gut-wrenching. There is nothing too complicated about the plot itself, but the film will definitely incite feelings of disgust, anger and sadness in its audience.
Although, Esposito is the protagonist, I felt that Ricardo Morales was the one who took the spotlight of the film. The man’s love and adoration for his late wife was incredibly moving.
In my opinion, I don’t think Morales kidnapped Gómez for himself. He did it to get justice for his wife (Liliana). Since the justice system failed on them, the widow decided to take matters into his own hands. It would be much easier for Morales to kidnap Gómez and end him with four bullet shots. However, what purpose would his death serve?
Morales loved his wife, she was his world and Gómez took everything away from him. In a very twisted way, punishing Isidoro was the thing that kept Morales going during all these years. The man never remarried, which is understandable. I mean, how would you explain Gómez’s existence (and captivity) to your future significant other? You can’t…
As I said before, the easiest part of “The Secret in Their Eyes” is the ending. I must confess, it was a bit cliché and a bit overly sweet. However, maybe it was necessary to counterbalance all the heavy stuff in the film, the brutal murder of Liliana, Sandoval’s death and the unexpected plot twist.
“The Secret in Their Eyes” takes place in Argentina during the 70s and the film does a wonderful job at giving its audience a glimpse of those times. For instance, when Romano called Esposito a nobody, he meant it in a classist way. In the film, Irene is sort of “untouchable” because of her privileged background, she comes from a well-off family.
What happened to Esposito’s partner (Sandoval) also shows how ruthless things could get for those with a target on their back. In this case, neither Sandoval nor Esposito were working against the government, but they were trying to prosecute individuals that worked for them. When Gómez became “untouchable”, he took advantage of his “status” to get back at Esposito for sending him to jail when he murdered Liliana.
The duration of the film is about 2 hours. Although, “The Secret in Their Eyes” is sort of a long watch, the director makes every minute count. By the way, “The Secret in Their Eyes” is more drama than thriller or mystery. Nevertheless, there isn’t one single dull moment in the film. Overall, “The Secret in Their Eyes” is a very noteworthy watch.