Before Night Falls (2000) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • The life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas.

    Will S
  • Episodic look at the life of Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas (1943-1990), from his childhood in Oriente province to his death in New York City. He joins Castro's rebels. By 1964, he is in Havana. He meets the wealthy Pepe, an early lover; a love-hate relationship lasts for years. Openly gay behavior is a way to spite the government. His writing and homosexuality get him into trouble: he spends two years in prison, writing letters for other inmates and smuggling out a novel. He befriends Lázaro Gomes Garriles, with whom he lives stateless and in poverty in Manhattan after leaving Cuba in the Mariel boat-lift. When asked why he writes, he replies cheerfully, "Revenge."

  • 1964, Havana. Reynaldo Arenas has just gotten a job working at the National Library, although he really wants to be a writer, which he has showed great aptitude at since he was a child growing up in the countryside in Oriente province. He is just beginning to acknowledge his homosexual orientation. With the support of like-minded friends, Reinaldo begins to flourish both sexually and artistically, and he becomes a world renowned writer. But by the 1970s, he is feeling more and more repressed by the Cuban authorities, both for his work and his homosexuality, despite he having fought for the Castro led revolutionary forces when he was a teenager. Although he is able to smuggle manuscripts out of Cuba to get published, he himself has a more difficult time trying to get out. The police use any excuse to arrest, detain and or imprison him. In May 1980, he is finally able to leave to the US in a purge by Castro of anyone who doesn't support the regime. But in the US, Reinaldo is plagued by other demons.

  • Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas's life is narrated by him, in an inextricable mix of his memories, dreams, nightmares and pure fiction. He grew up as poor, naked illegitimate child, joined Castro's Cuban revolution and became an intellectual, employed in the public library. After discovering his gay sexuality, he soon shares in the regime's inconsistent persecution. His work and life become dominated by the mix of temptation, fear, betrayal and man-hunting in both senses. Finally he makes it to Manhattan, only to get caught in another trap for which there is only one tragic escape in the end.


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  • Before Night Falls is the story of the writer, novelist, and poet Reinaldo Arenas who was born in a poor rural area of Eastern Cuba. He initially supported the Cuban Revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. Arenas moved to La Habana in 1963 and grew interested in writing. In 1966 he published El mundo alucinante (Hallucinations) which received critical acclaim and won honorable mention from the Union of Cuban Writers and Artists. Arenas openly gay lifestyle eventually let to trouble and in 1973 he was charged with ideological deviation and sent to jail, but escaped, was rearrested, then imprisoned in El Morro. He was released in 1976 and in 1980 was part of the Mariel Boat lift to the United States. While in New York City Arenas published Cantando en el pozo (Singing From the Well) in 1982, followed by El palacio de la blanquísimas mofetas (Palace of white Skunks) in 1982 and El portero (The Doorman) in 1987. He committed suicide by overdose on December 7, 1990 at age 47. His memoir, Antes que anochezca (Before Night Falls) was published three years later, and is a principal source of this film, produced in 2000. Arenas is played by the Spanish actor Javier Bardem, whose performance and Cuban accent are absolutely perfect.

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