Shot in beautiful black-and-white, Embrace of the Serpent is a fictionalized account of the colonial destruction of Amazonian tribes as seen through the eyes of Karamakate, a shaman who believes the rest of his people have been killed by white invaders, and two explorer-scientists, German Theo and American Evan, who visit the jungle roughly thirty years apart, both in search of a rare healing flower. The story is inspired by the diaries of ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grunberg, who made two extended expeditions into the Amazon basin during the first two decades of the twentieth century, and Richard Evans Schultes, a pioneer of ethnobotany and the study of psychoactive plants, who went there during World War II. A fourth major character, Manduca, who serves as Theo’s guide, represents those native people who believe that not all whites are evil.

The worst culprits in this tragic history are the rubber industrialists who enslaved the locals they did not kill, and the Catholic Church, whose more fanatic missionaries aggressively destroyed the native cultures in order to convert the tribal people to Christianity.