Monsters in white sneakers

by Arnold Alamon

▶︎ CITIZEN Jake is a timely film deftly made by one of Philippine cinema’s living national treasures. Just like his previous work, Bayaning Third World, Mike de Leon’s latest opus is sure to cause a thousand and one coffeeshop conversations among the white sneaker set and I guess their parents and teachers. To my mind, this is the film’s strength as well as its main weakness as well. It is indeed a challenge to wake up from their stupor the heirs of the country’s national elite poised to take over the reigns of government and business. To make them even consider their culpability as a class to the social cancer that has been rotting the nation is indeed already something of an achievement.

But what Subaru model was Citizen Jake driving? Does the model come with turbo? These earnest conversations must have been interrupted with such honest curiosities, I imagine.

At the risk of being misunderstood amid the general perception of the film’s brave take down of the Marcoses and the return of the spectre of dictatorship at present, the dilemmas of Citizen Jake has actually been contemplated upon and resolved if not with finality but with definite responses decades ago in Filipino film and literature. The coming into awareness of the bourgeois and peti-bourgeois youth of their family’s stake in the existing oppressive social order has already been covered in Lino Brocka’s “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” (1974). F. Sionil Jose’s Rosales Saga culminated with the character of working class Pepe Samson who had nothing but disdain for the so-called ilustrado class. Haven’t we resolved these issues long ago with the murder of Bonifacio in the hands of elite counterrevolutionaries and a certain novelist’s own grand and spectacular death wish?

If the film felt like a painful recurring catharsis, it is maybe because it mimics all too closely our own elites’ repeating historical catharsis that do not find release. Instead, what we see are self- flagellating confessional gestures about their sins as a class in an endless loop of guilt-ridden realizations. But after the performative atonement, life goes on, doesn’t it?

When his childhood friend of working class origins, Jonie, who was curiously blackened up and made to sport a mullet, was offered up as a sacrifice to the code of omerta that his family’s power relied on for survival and strength, life continued for Jake. This time, not in the idyllic Baguio log cabin of his mother’s memory but in an undisclosed modern penthouse condominium that had a minimalist industrial flair with floating stairs!

Jake went off to placate his troubled heart and mind in this urban man cave after venting his anger on another character of working class origins, his father’s brutal bodyguard who did everything at the behest of their family’s practice of power. And his life went on, I presumed in a drug addled haze this time after losing his mother, best friend, and girl friend, father and brother, because he supposedly rejected the workings of power that was his birthright. Jake lived his life disdaining the trappings of power around him and isolated himself in the process to become asocial and cynical.

Arnold Alamon is an academic, book author, and an opinion columnist. This piece was previously published in SunStar Cagayan, 28 May 2018.