Photo by Blue Fox Entertainment

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe,” not the secrets to a watchable movie

Katherine Rosa


Staff Writer 


The 2023 film adaptation of “Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime and Vudu. Written and directed by newcomer Aitch Alberto, the film is adapted from the 2012 Benjamin Alire Sáenz novel of the same name. The film is nearly a decade in the making, with Alberto starting the screenplay back in 2014. Despite this dedication and effort, the end result is unfortunately quite lackluster. 

Max Pelayo stars as Aristotle Mendoza, giving a flat portrayal of a once vivid character. He cannot be entirely faulted for this, as the main culprit is Alberto’s screenplay. His characterization ranges from not-angsty-enough in the first half, to the embodiment of blind rage in the second, with little development in between. It appears that the film either misses the intricacies to his character, or simply does not care enough to portray them. 

Reese Gonzales’ performance as Dante Quintana feels a lot more accurate. He does a nice job at balancing the different elements of his character, feeling naturally charismatic and deeply intuitive. He is a character that’s so full of love and so easy to love, and Gonzales is great at it. Sure, Dante might be an easier character to portray – he is an open-book, straightforward with who he is, unlike Aristotle who has so many layers to uncover –  but Gonzales deserves kudos for effectively bringing him to life. 

The film suffers the most from the loss of character voice. One of the most compelling aspects of the original novel was Aristotle’s narration. Since the novel is told entirely from his perspective, we benefit from an unrestricted access to his internal monologue. In the film, however, we are only given insight into Aristotle’s thoughts during the opening sequence, where we get a voiceover rundown of his life. Instead of using voiceover as an opportunity to portray Aristotle’s distinctive voice, the film lazily uses it as a vessel to simply spout context at the viewer. 

The novel was never heavy on plot, composed as more of a vignette of anecdotal moments rather than an intricate storyline. Still, it always managed to pace itself in a way that felt natural. That is not the case with the film. Pivotal moments such as Aristotle’s conversation with the Quintana’s in the hospital, and especially the climactic heart-to-heart with his parents, are significantly condensed. One crucial scene, where Dante cries after watching a group of boys shoot BB-guns at a bird, doesn’t even make it into the film, despite being one of the most quoted passages. The result of this content neglect is clear : a film that lacks the substance of its source material.

Still, there are some positive aspects to acknowledge. The cinematography, done by Akis Konstantakopoulos, is strong and creates a nice atmosphere for the film. Creative liberties are taken, such as the choice to actually include Aristotle’s Aunt Ophelia on-screen before her passing. 

The film additionally adds more historical context of the country’s climate in 1987, most notably in a scene where Aristotle’s parents watch news coverage on the AIDS crisis. These elements work for the adaptation, but unfortunately don’t add enough to make up for everything that’s been lost.

It feels like your average teen movie, with more romance than coming-of-age. While the friendship – and inevitable romance – between Aristotle and Dante is obviously a huge driving factor for the story, it seems that the film favors this angle of the narrative over character growth and self discovery. It feels trite, and results in a cliche and unremarkable film.

“Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe” (2023) seems unconcerned with discovering anything about itself, nor does it prompt the viewer to. The film is a satisfying romance with touching family moments, but it’s an inadequate translation. Alberto says an adaptation of the 2021 sequel, “Aristotle and Dante Dive into the Waters of the World” is in consideration. However, if it’s anything like this first film, then I’d say they can keep it.