Columbian import "Embrace of the Serpent" comes to the Gateway Film Center this week, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (it lost to the stellar "Son of Saul).

Columbian import "Embrace of the Serpent" comes to the Gateway Film Center this week, fresh off an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film (it lost to the stellar "Son of Saul).

It's both a challenging and engulfing movie-going experience - a true journey on multiple levels. And it's definitely one that should be seen on the big screen.

"Serpent" overlays two stories, one set in 1907 and one set in 1940. Both involve an Amazonian shaman named Karamakate (played by Nilbio Torres as a young man and Antonio Bolívar as he ages).

In both cases, Karamakate is enlisted to help a European navigate the Amazon in search of a rare plant with healing properties. Theo (Jan Bijvoet) is deathly ill and in need of this plant to save his life. Later, Evan (Brionne Davis) goes on a similar journey, though his motivations are more dubious.

Shot boldly and beautifully in black and white, "Serpent" takes its journeys up the river as deeply metaphoric. Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" - and "Apocalypse Now," which was inspired by Conrad's book - are obvious comparison points.

But "Serpent" also uses those overlaid narratives to great effect. It examines multiple invading forces - colonialism, industry, religion - and shows the impact over decades.

There's also an engaging character in Karamakate, and seeing the way the years have affected him is one of the film's great joys. Some of the film's impressionistic touches hit, while some miss, but this is a journey worth taking.