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The best part of 'Anaconda' is when the snake throws up Jon Voight
The giant snake is cool, especially when it barfs up a guy who then winks at J.Lo.
A quarter-century ago, a giant snake ate the members of a misguided expedition on the Amazon. However, it is not the giant snake that makes the 1997 film Anaconda the cult classic that it is. Nor is it Jennifer Lopez or Ice Cube’s memorable performances, though they are great pulpy ‘90s action heroes. No, what makes Anaconda a masterpiece is a wink.
Anaconda follows documentarian Terri Flores (Lopez) and her cameraman Danny Rich (Ice Cube) as they venture into the jungle to shoot a documentary about a fabled indigenous tribe. However, they encounter a Paraguayan snake hunter named Paul Serone (Jon Voight) and give him a lift because his boat is broken. Serone tells them he knows where to find the lost native tribe, but eventually it’s revealed that he’s actually just using them to track down a gigantic anaconda.
The anaconda eats a lot of people, and Serone establishes himself as a really bad dude, going so far as to use Terri and Danny as bait in his effort to catch the serpent. It rules, then, when the very snake that Serone has been hunting eats him. Serone gets swallowed whole — but not for long.
Shortly after, while the snake is hunting down Terri, it suddenly regurgitates Serone’s lightly digested, vaguely still-alive body. Terri screams as Serone, who is on his knees looking up at her like some sort of human apricot, gives her a sly wink and then falls over dead.
It is, frankly, an incredible moment in an otherwise good, guilty pleasure-y creature feature.
The decision to cast Voight, a white man of German and Slovak descent, as a Paraguayan snake hunter, is one that we hope a modern casting director might not make. (Voight’s transition into a hardcore MAGA conservative in recent years further colors his performance here.) But, regardless of whether or not Voight should have been playing Serone, he did — and, boy, did he go absolutely nuts with it. His accent changes by the syllable, his face looks like he’s attempting to do an impression of Popeye the Sailor Man, and he’s oozing slime even before he’s literally oozing slimy snake digestive fluids. It is an unhinged performance from the jump, and ending things by getting reverse-vored and then winking is a perfect capstone.
With few exceptions, giant animal attack movies are not serious affairs. Jaws, a masterpiece of the genre, comes pretty close, but even then you can tell that this is a movie that knows it is fun if not necessarily silly. Anaconda is incredibly silly — 1997 CGI unintentionally helps on that front — but the actors in it are, for the most part, playing their roles straight. Nobody thinks they’re in a performance of Hamlet, but they’re all doing admirable jobs playing their stock characters. Voight, though, is on another level.
Perhaps because Voight is not at all Paraguayan, he’s not playing anything resembling a real person. He is Serone. When he winks at J.Lo he’s, by extension, winking at the camera. It’s the part of the movie where he lets the audience know that, yes, this is funny. According to the site Lost in the Movies, Voight told a Q&A audience once that the wink was improvised and was his idea. If so, it’s a perfect addition. One bit of spontaneity led to the most ridiculous moment in an already ridiculous movie.
Was Serone still alive? Was that just a dying reflex? Or did he see Terri — the woman who, moments earlier, he had tried to feed to a giant snake so he could catch it before he himself was killed by the giant snake — and wish to send her a message the only way his dying body could, with a wink? Was he flirting with her? Was the wink an admission akin to “game recognize game?” Did the wink indicate that Serone thought he would be “seeing” Terri soon, assuming she’d suffer the same fate as he did?
I do not know the answer, but I do know I will be thinking about these questions forever. This wink is the reason why, 25 years later, Anaconda is still constricted around my brain.