Ten Problems with Mistaking the Lunar for the Solar
a review of some reviews of Heneral Luna
a poster for the film
by Jojo Soria de Veyra
NOW that the movie Heneral Luna has been watched by the first wave of Filipinos who were privileged to have seen it and all there is now in the news about it is the puzzlement by some (if not many) over Epy Quizon's sitting it out through the entire production that has affected even the President's blame-game pointer finger, maybe I can now say something about one thing wrong with the film's marketing.
The cusswords offered by actor John Arcilla's interpretation of Luna's personality were seemingly apt while funny at the same time to the average observer. I have to admit I enjoyed that too. But a much-applauded pronouncement by the character Luna, also highlighted in the film's trailer, was in the line "Mga kapatid, mayroon tayong mas malaking kaaway kaysa sa mga Amerikano. Ang ating sarili." Which I was a bit uncomfortable with for reasons that would be confirmed by some reviews that mistook the film for a crazy bit of unity propaganda.
I suspected that this applause on that pronouncement would be connected to our oft-repeated calls for "pagkakaisa", which by itself is already a problematique to the historiography over Katipunan members' idea of democracy, how much more to our present idea of the democratic ideal. If that pronouncement regarding our regionalist division is a call for a hyper-nationalist unity, then indeed the movie as a commenting product on that divisiveness is easy target for advocates of freedom and diversity and enemies of fascism.
I have not even mentioned yet other calls for a general nationalist pride within the present that took inspiration from the movie, calls that advocates of global trade and cooperation may frown upon as backward and interested in either a local-business-deriving or leftist-nationalist protectionist sort of economics.
I declare that those marketing stances, hyping up the film as either a call for unity or nationalist protectionism or both, as well as audience impressions upon the movie as that sort of a product, ignore a deeper value in the film that is actually more marketable than the habitual values of unity and pride.
"The naïveté that killed him was a naïveté towards that very lack of unity, that one within his faith in a united nation, . . ."
MY reservations for the hype on that oft-quoted Luna pronouncement above would be confirmed by the effect of this marketing stance's unity-and-pride call on enemies of dictatorial tendencies and friends of democratic diversity and international trade. Because of that marketing direction, some in this group saw the film as precisely that, an insane product driving a people to such insane directions as fascistic oneness and protectionist economics for the future. I believe that that impression on the movie and on Luna himself mistakes the lunar for the solar. Let me now focus on this group's possible hang-up with the film and specify where it can hang its hang-ups dry and where it (as well as the film's marketing) could have better focused:
1) The film as potential material for a dangerous, hyper-nationalist campaign? Hold your horses, men.
I saw Heneral Luna precisely as a depiction of the myth of our nationhood, a reiteration of the fact that the Filipino nation may up to this day be a nation still in the making or a nation still struggling to remain within that myth. Sure, that reiteration does lead to calls for "real unity", but the film also depicts a Luna who leaned on that myth as his faith, which naïveté (if it was) led to his demise under the hands of a pro-Kavite sub-nationalist campaign. Would our leaning on that same faith of unity lead to our demise as well? Haven't we been stabbing each other in the back for decades, which fact alone may explain our continuing struggles with the concept of nationhood within this mythical unitary state we continue to nurture? And if so, isn't the concept of "real unity" just as worthy of our questioning minds as well? Isn't that what the movie wants us to ask?
2) If the film's marketing sought to inspire nationalist pride, we must ask if that ambition is itself obsolete. For it's true that we are inhabitants of a now-irreversibly-globalized world, a world where 'nationalism' is suspect.
But where was the nationalism in the movie really placed? Was it not merely preaching awareness of the difference between real trade partners (whom we've been accustomed to meeting in the past---our fellow Austronesians and Chinese, not to mention British ones) and mere invaders? Where did the movie preach against trading with foreigners? It didn't even mention Emilio Aguinaldo as a descendant of Chinese traders.
As a citizen of a globalized world that has in fact slowly changed many of its policies thanks to the unyielding spirit of activism, I do find myself cringing at any thought that views "irreversible globalization" as sacrosanct and readily endorses it. True, nationalism can be blinding and self-destructive. True, it's never good to always be thinking about what we ourselves can get from our own backyard when we can, in fact, put up a restaurant where people from outside can eat the products of this backyard. But, conversely, it's also never good to always be thinking about what we can gain from others' gaining from the use of our backyard. The concept of a lumpenbourgeoisie would have to be considered as a problem in that case, a concept personified in the characters of Felipe Buencamino and Pedro Paterno in the film.
No, the film cannot be deemed a call for nationalist pride and protectionist purity when all it points to are invaders who have no second thoughts about killing innocent civilians of our race so they can access whatever it was they wanted to access, and Filipino characters who want to close their eyes to such a potential carnage.
3) Was the movie a dangerous nationalist movie for its pointing to a Lee Kuan-Yew sort of structure of social dominance by social stalwarts like Luna lording it over other Katipunan leaders, not to mention the peasantry? But wait. If the movie was indeed a nationalist film, what sort of nationalism was it advocating? Or, rather, whose nationalism? Was it advocating the sort of nationalism that inspires a committee to pick a National Artist for a nation that doesn't know that artist? Was it advocating a nationalism by a representative democracy established by plutocrats? Or was it merely calling for the sort of nationalism one would call for if one belonged to a nation being killed by mercenaries hired by a multinational mining company with a lumpenbourgeois local partner?
4) Sure, a nationalist film, say an Israeli or Palestinian or Chinese film, can go into territories beyond the realm of reason and merely end up with the desire to pit the nation it represents against the nation it regards as the Other, whether for reasons of superiority or ethnocentric survival. But, again, hold your horses, man. China's nationalist aggression can be deemed dangerous by Filipinos and others. But should Filipinos' insistence on keeping their boundaries intact be equally treated as dangerous? If it should, then would the solution be for the Philippines to surrender its territory to an internationalist body? And because ethnocentric survival under the flag of nationalism would be equally bad, therefore should we now regard Buencamino and Paterno as our internationalist heroes? And should a film be made from that angle?
5) Let's go back to the possible reading on the film as preaching nationalist protectionism against global trade. Hmm. The movie was preaching protectionism? Protectionism as a trade policy is almost anti-trade, I'd agree. But is there protectionism in war? Is there such a thing as a trade policy towards an invader?
6) True, the film invoked national unity and Luna's character sought to inspire the country’s energy towards a unified goal. But why misconstrue this as a call for blind nationalism? Wouldn't that be barking too much on the tool and not rather on who's wielding the tool, not to mention who's wielding the tool for what? Unifying a people for a plutocratic family's business interests is one thing, unifying a people for defense against encroachment into their lands by a foreign army and the rape of their women is another. The former may be blinded, the latter simply awake.
7) Granted that the character of Luna in the film tended to be collectivist in the Communist sense, and authoritarian in the Fascist sense. But let us not allow ourselves to be confused. Because, swallowing that premise whole, wouldn't we be confusing the collectivist nationalism of a general trying to "collect" people to defend themselves against an invader with the nationalism of businessmen who would be just as likely---if not more likely---to rally the people towards "pagkakaisa" (that plutocratic word again) for the sake of a peaceful, globalized world governed by the local-partners-eager G8 and others like the Salim Group?
8) Critics of the film would nonetheless praise Jerrold Tarog’s direction that led us to see Luna’s human frailties. But the praise would then point to Luna's blind idealism and tendency to see the world as black and white as evidenced by his reluctance to compromise as those very frailties that finally did him in. I think I've heard this one before. The Lumads and anti-dam tribal warriors have simply been blind and have been seeing the world as black and white, and that is the reason why they found themselves killed by mercenaries. Blame the victim for his victimization. Well, okay, I agree that they could have been otherwise. They could simply have been white for the white-complexioned Australian or American or Chinese contractors' desires.
9) To extend the argument of #8 that blames the central character for his own demise, friends of global trade will argue further that it was not only his stubbornness that killed Luna, it was primarily his naïveté about a changing world. But a changing world according to whom? For if Luna carried a naïveté that would kill him, it wasn't a naïveté about any changing world of global trade which, we've been aware since the beginning of time and often been told to this day, doesn't kill people. The naïveté that killed him was a naïveté towards that very lack of unity, that one within his faith in a united nation, a faith that dismissed the possibility that the other "nations" in the Katipunan would want to dominate the opportunities available to them from the land. It's interesting to note that friends of globalization would pick on the Filipino nationalism of Luna and ignore the Kavite nationalism of the rest, and especially the pseudo-nationalism of the rest of the opportunists.
Friends of global trade would try to explain away their disgust of nationalism by stating that Filipino nationalism has always been problematic for being a weird phenomenon that remains to this day as an enigma even to ourselves. But this enigmatic attempt to explain that supposed weirdness discounts the simple (as against the intricate) fact that to this day we continue to struggle as a nation not only in terms of our ethnic or regional divides but also in terms of our loyalty solely to family (both of which the film, by the way, tackled).
10) Critics of the film, inspired by its wrong marketing, would finally argue that the main problem of the culture of the film is that we, as a nation, have been trying too hard to become something we are not, united, and that the solution to our dilemma is quite simply in the acknowledgment and acceptance of our diversity. In diversity is unity would be their slogan. But from another angle separate from the modern neoliberal's, wasn't that the film's very point? Luna died because he wanted us to become something we are not; Luna could have lived without that tragic flaw, acknowledging and accepting of the fact that our diversity will never unite us, especially that diversity that divides the exploiter and the exploited, the tax money consumer and the taxed consumers, the nation-weary lost and the nationless businessmen. That acknowledgment and acceptance could have led him to a better vision of unity, a unity against not one enemy but many enemies. That was the film's ultimate take-off for me.
For the pathos for our people is in the reality of sub-nations and leading clans lording it over a real nation of people, which lording makes up the mythos of our nationhood. Heneral Luna, I think, amply painted its own Spoliarium of that fact.
It's also less a movie about an America that would later give out Academy awards for foreign-language films; it's mainly a movie about a Philippines that continue to parlay nothing but promises of rewards to a nation even while that nation has yet to exist, having been invaded from within. [d]
SOME POSITIONS CONTRA THE ABOVE CRITICISM'S POSITION:
"The Problem with Heneral Luna" by Jan Albert Suing
"The Dangers of 'Heneral Luna'" by Nicole CuUnjieng
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