Sunday, October 16, 2011

The 2nd Awake! Film Festival

On 3 October 2011, the class of Political Science 167: Political Socialization and Film held the 2nd Awake! Film Festival at the University of the Philippines, Diliman campus, Palma Hall, from 9:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. In an effort to contribute to the relevance of Filipino films as part of the political socialization process, the festival theme centered upon "Integrity and Negotiation," focusing on films that explore diverse issues which are critically important in the unfolding weave of the Philippine socio-political tapestry.

The following films were programmed as part of the festival:

Film 01: Confessional, 2007, Jerrold Tarog & Ruel Dahis Antipuesto, Directors

“Two steps forward, one step back.”

Ryan Pastor can be considered an expert in his craft: video editing. His blatant disregard for his subjects’ emotions and of the scenes stems from nothing but professional necessity. But apparently, the profession that pays for the brownies in his fridge is the very thing that robs him of what he felt as the essential truths. Thus unfolds his adventurist thirst to capture the truth in an attempt to redeem himself from what he feels like a forsaken niche amongst videographers.

Confessional revolves around the personal conflict of a man, but it pounds deeper with its symbolisms as it frequently foreshadows, and at times, even directly tackles long-contested philosophical questions about the truth. What really makes the truth so appealing? Perhaps his constant manipulation of “what is” has fueled his need for the truth. Which brings us to the main point: how real is the film? Does it speak the truth? Is there such a thing as truth? What constitutes the truth? How do we know when people speak the truth? As what we have observed, the audacity of the film is evident as it faces these philosophically loaded questions head-on even just by employing the means of a simple narrative.

In Confessional, an equation out of the ordinary is derived: Lies + Lies = Truth. This is based on the property in Mathematics which states that two (2) negatives make a positive, thus, two lies when combined reinforces its truth value. But is it really the case in this thought-provoking statement? We feel this kind of analogy is very much misleading as it parallelizes the matter of lies and truths as finite objects that can be measured in the truistic sense of empirical science. Clearly, although we mean no offense by this, it is a disservice to conclude the discussion using something as value-free as Mathematics.

Another apparent element of the film is its implicit use of contrasts. Case-in-point, the nun who was defending the religious side of the Sinulog festival is quick to inject the faults of the local government for manipulating the celebration date just to accommodate tourists which, consequently, results to a more effective media packaging. The idea is that it devalues the religious significance of the festival to make way for economic progress of the city. But later on, the documentary of Ryan would disclose the background story of a nun who once aspired to be a star in her youthful days. Was that bit of information necessary? The answer is no. But does it add a gradient to the film in the form of entertainment-value? The answer is yes. And this clearly signifies Ryan’s shortcomings by still falling for a video-editor’s instinct to distort the concept of the truth.

The film, entitled “Confessional”, was only a confession up to a certain point. Toward the end of the film, the former mayor was killed just as he was about to, at least according to him, speak the truth. We say this statement with doubts in mind as the film’s operationalization of the ‘truth’ is still highly unfounded up to this point. The major cliffhanger, presented as Mayor Lito was shot in the head, only goes to show that truth is still left in the confines of doubt and uncertainty.

Towards the end of the film, the main character is plagued with several choices: acknowledge and tell the truth, or keep it.

In the spirit of being more realistic, the aim of arriving at a universal ‘truth’ is simply too grand regardless of how the film has managed to invoke a deeper level of philosophical retrospection. Perhaps the approach to dissecting the kind of ‘truth’ that Confessional wants to hammer down can be more achieved if we nuance it to the Philippine context. The essence of the story can is not in Ryan’s attempt to win a documentary price regarding Sinulog but in his diversion from it courtesy of Mayor Lito’s unexplainable decision to make him his personal confessor. Ryan knows what he’s getting himself into, and he frequently runs away from it. This is evident when he darts out of the woods and into the city proper after he is shown proof of the former mayor’s murder victim. It is apparent in his disheveled appearance that he is scared, but what makes him go back and finally agree to cover the former Mayor’s confessions? It is very Filipino to doubt anyone that occupies a governmental seat. Generally, Filipinos would rather not speak and live in silence than speak even if they are presented with the opportunity to question. As Mayor Lito has said, he is the most honest politician in the country. Because nobody dared to ask about his misdeeds, he has remained in office for quite a long time. This somehow creates a picture of a localized truth. By that, we mean the inherent curiosity of the brave hearts like Ryan to chase after the truth that our culture and society usually choses to turn a blind eye to.

We would like to commend Publio Briones III (Former Mayor Lito Caliso) for his superb acting skills. There were times when we had to remind ourselves that the film isn’t a real documentary as the circumstances were painfully familiar, mirrored even, from our conception of the Philippine experience. Simply put, Confessional is an allegory of society in general. It makes fun of people, their beliefs and practices among others while at the same time using this chance to probe deeper questions out of sheer mockery. As a blogger, Oggs Cruz, has put it, Confessional does “not only tackle the moral depletion of Philippine society through the camera of a fictional filmmaker, they also eschew the supposed journalistic role of cinema, how such is eventually inexistent in a determination of collective corruption. Recorded in front of our eyes is a man shot in the head. Death is the truest thing in the world as one is either alive or not. How should one feel about it? Shocked, scared, or alarmed? The film ends with an answer to that question and the viewer can interpret it in any way he wants.”

The unexpected animation of certain scenes contributed to the holistic appeal of the film. The amateur editing employed in the documentary should not be taken lightly as they convey equally important messages to the viewers. This documentary is made by someone who values physical attributes more than a person’s character and attitudes. Confessional is a film that is stripped off of anything pretentious. From the plot to the technical aspects of the film, one cannot help but be amazed at the craftsmanship of the whole thing. When someone confesses, that individual is stripping himself of most, if not all, of the masks he has hidden in for a period in time. Unlike other sets where theatrical and dramatic lighting are employed, Confessional uses natural lighting to stick to its “stripped” theme. The phrase “Two steps forward and one step back” encapsulates the film. How so? Ryan is on this unending quest for truth. He does whatever it takes, sometimes even skipping meals, to get to the bottom of everything. What he does when he gets the truth is utterly disappointing. Instead of moving forward and making a difference, no matter how small that may be, he keeps it to himself and remains ignorant to the very cause he started. When the truth is in your hands, what do you do with it? #


Film 02: Bagong Buwan, 2001, Marilou Diaz-Abaya , Director

Film 03: Temptation Island, 1980, Joey Gosiengfiao, Director

Temptation Island (1981) stars Dina Bonnevie, Azenith Briones, Jennifer Cortez, and Bambi Arambulo as beauty queens out of their element in this camp cult classic directed by Joey Gosiengfiao.

The sophisticated collegiala Dina Espinola (Dina Bonnevie), the thief-slash-prostitute Azenith Tobias (Azenith Briones), the spoiled brat Bambi Belisario (Bambi Arambulo) and the perpetually condescending rich girl Suzanne Reyes (Jennifer Cortez) are all contestants in the Miss Manila Sunshine Beauty Contest. A fire onboard a yacht during the pre-pageant stage shipwrecks all of them on a desert island along with Suzanne's yaya Maria (Deborah Sun), gay millionaire pageant organizer Joshua (Jonas Sebastian), his boyfriend Ricardo (Ricky Belmonte), yacht waiter Umberto (Domingo Sabado) and Dina's admirer Alfredo (Alfie Anido). On the island, the ladies come face to face with the harsh realities of living without modern comforts. The motley crew eventually establishes a system of survival in the anarchic situation, with the social order still intact. Maria continues to wait hand and foot on Suzanne, while Joshua and Suzanne remain elitists even when they barely have material possessions.

The relationship between Joshua and Ricardo deteriorates because of Bambi, Azenith and Umberto fall in love with each other, and Suzanne eventually succeeds in seducing Alfredo away from Dina, leading up to a hilarious confrontation. The scenes are peppered with memorable lines, profanity, and plenty of humor.

The tension among the characters reaches its peak when Ricardo makes out with Bambi in front of Joshua. Joshua runs away and commits suicide. Maria reaches her breaking point and attacks Suzanne, after which Suzanne sees her in a whole new light. In hunger and desperation the survivors decide to eat Joshua's remains, singing to distract themselves from what they are doing. Ironically, a helicopter rescues them a few minutes later.

Back in Manila, the four women are shown at the coronation night of the Miss Manila Sunshine Contest. Suzanne wins the crown and flies to California with Maria; Dina is on a honeymoon with Alfredo; Bambi marries Ricardo; and Azenith goes back to her original boyfriend, another self-professed criminal; Umberto watches as they drive away.

Temptation Island is of the genre "camp," which refers to intentionally exaggerated thematic or genre elements, especially in television and motion picture mediums. (Urban Dictionary, n.d.) In Temptation Island, flyers for a beauty contest drop from a helicopter and onto a sunbathing woman's lap, a gay man's white outfit remains spotless despite the harsh conditions, and instead of mirages they see electric fans and a giant fried chicken. Everything happening on screen is utterly ridiculous, and that is where most of its charm comes from. The main themes are anarchy, social class struggles, gendered division of labor, sacrifice, virginity, and the dependence on “civilized life.”

The seemingly unruly technical aspects of the film contributed a lot to its anarchical theme. These may turn off critics who are very particular of the technicalities, but it may be the film’s way to express how chaotic the context of the film was that time. Of course, living in a desert island with no governing rules and institutions can be very anarchical to the survivors of a shipwreck. As there is no tall order for everyone to follow procedures, everyone does his/her own wants and needs without being coerced to conform to a uniform standard of existence. Still, we can see that the survivors ended up organizing themselves in accordance to their gender and social classes.

In the film, social class struggles and elitism are main themes. There is a rift between the social climber Azenith, and the rich girl Suzanne; they fought each other on the barren island about the simplest of things. A memorable line delivered by Suzanne is “I have no time for middle class sentiments.” The characters are all unapologetic for their thoughts, words and actions. Every character goes beyond embracing his or herself and into practically rubbing it into each other’s faces. In the anarchic situation, their true nature was evident. However, it was not the human nature philosophized by Locke, and not even that philosophized by Rousseau. They maintained who they were before being shipwrecked and continued to operate as if the social hierarchy was still in place. The break comes from Suzanne’s personal assistant, Maria.

Suzanne called her all kinds of labels—“walang pinag-aralan”, “bobo”, “taga-bundok”, “utak-kamote.” She also frequently hurt the ever-loyal helper. Yet, in the end, Maria became enraged, and she fought back and almost killed Suzanne in a duel. It was the only time when Suzanne realized how important Maria was, and she tried to win back Maria’s loyalty by treating her in a more humane manner. Maria was Suzanne’s only “friend,” a consequence of her brashness and condescension.

Sex and sexuality-related themes are imbibed in Temptation Island. Obviously, there are dialogues and scenes pertaining to the ‘strength’ men possess vis-à-vis the ‘weak’ nature of women, thus the need by men to protect and to render service to women. Men were assigned to do ‘heavy’ tasks such as building a house and hunting for food; women were expected to tend the house and prepare things to be used by men. This is the intersection of gender and labor: the gendered division of labor is said to be characteristic of “primitive” societies.

The sex scenes may also symbolize how men dominate over women in society—women were ‘commodities’ used by men to satisfy sexual and material lust. But at the same time, the women also took control of their sexuality.

Homosexual politics is also touched upon in the movie. Joshua was being disregarded by his boyfriend, Ricardo, after the latter getting infatuated with Bambi. Bambi, by virtue perhaps of her biological capacities, was chosen by Ricardo over Joshua. He was also deemed by the people he was with as ‘useless’ and ‘helpless,’ stemming from his background and uneasiness towards manual labor. The gay man’s life became tragic after he saw his partner make love with Bambi. He ran away and committed suicide. It can be a reference to members of third sex being discriminated and dominated by the ruling gender in society.

Temptation Island showcases many instances of sacrifice among the characters. First, Dina sacrificed her comforts of being overprotected and became adventurous in joining the contest; Azenith gave up her “reputation as a decent woman” just to climb up the social ladder; Bambi forwent her own will for the sake of her family’s status in society. Of course, there were even more sacrifices that took place in the wilderness. Each one compromised his/her status and took measures just to ensure survival in the desolate place. But the greatest sacrifice can be seen in Joshua, who was eventually eaten by the survivors. In the film, sacrifices are necessary to get an anticipated result in a contest, or in the desert, survival.

The film can also be interpreted as an attack on putting a premium on virginity. Dina, who did not give in to the urges of Alfredo, became a ‘loser’ when Suzanne seduced her lover. The three contestants enjoyed the pleasures of sex in the desert, while Dina maintained her virginity. Dina’s value judgments regarding sex and virginity were shaped by the society where she belongs, and the three other contestants may represent the more liberal people ready to accept modern ideas. It can be said that Dina is a more conservative type of person, while the other three ladies, liberal. The battle between the two groups can be identified in the time when the film was made—in the ‘80s.

Civilization has given each one the comfort of living at peace without worrying what to eat or to wear the next day. However, when people are taken out “civilized life” and are placed in a context such as being shipwrecked on a desert island, they will realize that they’ve become too dependent of the comfort and luxuries that society offers, as Alfredo mentioned in the last scene of the movie. Hence, the survivors of the shipwreck could not become accustomed to their harsh environment, where there is no technology and source of food. But beyond this, we must also ask: what does “civilization” mean in the first place? As one character remarks, even in the cities people engage in less than civilized behavior.

Ultimately, the characters negotiated their existence with the context of the desert and they managed themselves to do tasks that they would probably never want nor need do. Were integrities compromised? We believe not. Each character held on to his or her ideas of him or herself, leading up to a wonderfully entertaining and insightful film forever on the roster of the best films of the ‘80s.


Campy. (n.d.) Retrieved on 3 October 2011 from

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Kite Runner: Redemption Within A Tentative Best

Two boys, Amir and Hassan, were spending the best of their childhood together as a series of personal circumstances and political events permanently molded their destinies. One was lucky enough to get a good life outside the relentless government of Taliban in Afghanistan; the other one not as fortunate as his devotion to his master and friend eventually cost his life. This is at least how I understood the film The Kite Runner which rolled in cinemas in 2007.

Director Marc Foster and the cast of the film adapted the script from the novel written by Khaled Hosseini. Hosseini drew inspiration in writing the novel from his childhood memories when he taught a Hazara man how to read and write during the family’s stay in Iran, and from the Kabul of his early years that he knew then. It is a drama film, the story revolving around the friendship between Amir and Hassan, and how personal and political conflicts shaped them into what they became eventually.

I will start with a summary of the film. Afterwards, some themes and techniques used by the filmmakers in the movie will be tackled. Finally, I will attempt to relate the film to political socialization, that is, how the film can contribute to the discussion on integrity and negotiation as the course’s theme tells us.

Amir Qadiri, a well-to-do boy, lived his childhood days in a district in Kabul, Afghanistan together with his father, Baba, and closest friend, Hassan, whom he all knew was their servant’s son. He always played games, read and wrote stories, and enjoyed doing things with Hassan. But his father regarded him as a weakling, and Hassan was recognized as the stronger one because the latter always defended Amir from the bullies. This remark has made Amir somewhat jealous of Hassan, and he attempted to regain his father’s attention by winning a kite flying event. However, Hassan was beaten and raped by the bullies, led by Assef, after he ran for Amir’s prize kite. This made Amir’s perception more distant to Hassan as guilt of maltreating a friend started to consume his entirety. Succeeding events would show how Amir became cold toward Hassan.

The political climate of the country was turning worse, from the fall of the Afghan monarch, to the invasion of Soviet Union that caused the exodus of numerous citizens to Pakistan and to the United States, and to the reign of the Taliban. Amir’s father was a known anti-communist, so he decided to leave the place with his son. The house was left to Rahim Khan, a friend, who looked after their property. They succeeded in escaping for the United States, and there, they became lowly refugees and started lives anew.

Amir graduated from college through the toils of his ageing father who worked hard in a gasoline station. He also helped his father selling goods in the flea market. There, he met the love of his life, Soraya. Despite the contempt that General Taheri, Soraya’s father, held due to pride and honor, Amir was able to marry her due to Baba’s request from the soldier. Although unable to conceive a child, Amir and Soraya were still happily married.

Amir received a phone call (in the opening scene of the movie) from Rahim Khan, and was told that “There is a way to be good again.” The context of this passage was for Amir to go to Pakistan and meet Rahim Khan. He learned from his father’s friend the fate of Hassan after they separated ways. Rahim Khan took Hassan and his family as caretakers of Baba’s house. But Hassan and his wife died in the hands of the Taliban after they dutifully refused to desert the house. It was revealed that Hassan was Amir’s half-brother. The deceit that fed his mind for a long time made Amir’s heart even colder, yet it was thawed and warmed after reading the letter written by Hassan a week before his death. It was now Amir’s task to search for Hassan’s son, Sohrab, in the Taliban-infested terrains of Kabul.

With the help of a driver named Farid, Amir returned to Afghanistan with a fake beard. They first visited an orphanage, where they learned of a Taliban official who takes a child from the place every now and then in exchange for meager donations. They went to the halftime of a soccer match to meet this Taliban official. They scheduled an appointment at the official’s heavily guarded house. And there, Amir once again met the bully, Assef, who presented Sohrab as a dance boy.

Assef told Amir that he can only take the boy home if he would win a fight against the bully. Amir was brutally beaten by Assef, yet Sohrab used a slingshot he got from his father Hassan and wounded Assef’s left eye. Together, they escaped the official’s house; and eventually, they reached America. Amir, who wanted to compensate with the loss that he did to a faithful friend and brother, attempted to console the traumatized and withdrawn Sohrab by defending the boy against General Taheri’s racist remarks and introducing him (Sohrab) as a nephew. Amir also flew a kite with the boy in the end, and cutting an enemy kite, he said, “For you, a thousand times over” and ran for the kite, just like what Hassan said to Amir during their childhood days.

The movie has several underlying themes. One is the concept of redemption. It is evident in the film how Amir tried to redeem his reputation in the eyes of his father as he felt he was responsible for his mother’s death. Yet, the greatest redemption that happened in the film is Amir’s attempt to save Sohrab, as this was the only way he found to cleanse his lingering guilt to Hassan. It was also his way in redeeming himself to finally stand for what is right.

Another possible theme is patriarchy, and love and tension between father and sons. As we all know, in an Islamic society, the father is a powerful figure; as a dialogue from Rahim Khan implies, a father is able to “fill the children with the color that he wants them to be.” Baba wanted Amir to be a doctor; yet he wanted to be a writer, and the father looked down on his son’s ambition. Amir loves Baba very dearly, yet he didn’t feel that he was loved back that much and he saw Hassan as a ‘rival’. Jealousy prevailed; the friendship between Amir and Hassan gradually broke up, despite the latter’s never-fading attachment to the former.

There is also a tinge of racial discrimination in the movie. There are references to Hassan and to Sohrab as the “Hazara boy”, and it points out the ethnic conflict between the majority Pashtun and the minority Hazaras in Afghanistan. The Hazaras had been discriminated against on the grounds of their faith, language, and ethnicity. Although the Pashtuns are successful in integrating the Hazaras into the Afghan state, they are not able to extinguish the nationalism that the minority group exhibits in the country. Thus, the conflict between these groups still persists.

In the film, the intersection between the political and the private spheres can also be considered a theme. The transitions in Amir’s life also marked the transitions that took place in his dear country. The political events greatly influenced the outcomes of the characters, particularly Amir and Hassan. Had there not been this series of political unrest in Afghanistan, the rest of the story would have been different.

Nostalgia is also an important theme in the movie. We can see it in Amir, who almost “forgot” his past yet the guilt toward Hassan still lingered. His father Baba was also very homesick, and it manifested with the locker containing Afghan soil. Each character has his/her own past that made them act the way they did in the present.

Regarding the technical aspects of the film, I say that the film has effectively used repetition, flashback, and symbolism. Here, we can see some details that repeated throughout the film: for instance, Hassan’s warning shot and Sohrab’s actual shot at Assef’s left eye; Assef’s molestation of Hassan and of Sohrab; the “Hazara boy” remarks of Assef and of General Taheri; Hassan’s “For you, a thousand times over” dialogue to Amir and the same dialogue of the latter to Sohrab. Each one foreshadowed an important happening that would highlight Amir’s fears and eventually overcoming of these fears.

Flashbacks are evident throughout the film. Actually, the technique was mainly used by the filmmakers in building the flow of the story. It gave emphasis on the childhood memories of Amir in order for viewers to fully understand what transpired prior to Rahim Khan’s call at the beginning of the film. Though some would say that flashbacks might confuse the timeline of a film, I would still say that The Kite Runner is successful in employing this kind of technique as it let viewers like me ponder more about the story while expecting for surprises.

Symbolism is used by the film in the kites and the allusions to rape. The kites might represent Amir’s happiness and hopes when he was still a child; ironically, it was also a sign of his guilt toward Hassan. Meanwhile, the rape scenes may be interpreted as the power domination of the majority over the minority (eg. Assef raping Hassan may symbolize the Pashtuns persecuting the Hazaras; the Russian soldier who showed interest in a woman passenger on the way outside Afghanistan may correspond to Soviet’s invasion of the country).

Finally, the film can be related to the discussion on integrity and negotiation. As Sir F would ask us in class, “What constitutes one’s integrity?” Perhaps, the greatest thing that contributed to the integrity of the characters is their memories of the past. They kept on remembering events that made them happy, and on forgetting things that made them shattered or bruised. To hold on to their integrity, they kept doing things which they think would keep their identity distinguishable despite the continuous processes of negotiations within a given context (eg. Practicing religion, observing traditions, speaking native language). However, it should be noted that remembering and forgetting is not clear-cut and inseparable—both are essential in delineating your own integrity. As I think it is unavoidable, there would come a time that you have to negotiate a part of your integrity in order to cope with a need, as in the case of Amir, who almost forgot his early days with Hassan, but were brought back due to circumstances. He negotiated his memory to redeem himself of the guilt he committed; as he replied to Farid during his visit to the abandoned residence, “I don’t want to forget anymore.”

It still touches and amazes me, though, that there would be someone that’s so devoted to you that he’s willing to compromise his own integrity just to make you better, just like Hassan to his half-brother Amir.


- Roldan Pineda

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teorema: Propositions At The Core Of Integrity

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s works have always been controversial and Teorema has proven to be no exception although anyone who has seen his other films namely Salo would have to agree that Teorema is one of his relatively more tame and restrained films. Nonetheless, it has the ability to elicit responses from its audience ranging from shock to plain bewilderment. The film proves to be elusive to one central interpretation but perhaps it was intended to be that way. In my personal opinion, the strongest reaction that the film can draw out from its viewers is bewilderment and discussing the film has proven to be a challenging task. As such, this entry will employ three general frameworks namely Freudian psychoanalysis, Marxist class analysis and religion, and post-modernism as guides in an attempt to provide a coherent discussion.

The plot is enough to attract an audience. A mysterious and nameless stranger, played by Terence Stamp, is welcomed as a visitor to a conventional and upper-class Milanese family which is comprised of a father, mother, son, and daughter. He proceeds to have sex with each member of the household including the servant Emilia. Given the plot, people are probably anticipating a salacious movie but they are in for a disappointment because the sex scenes are far from explicit although this did not stop charges of obscenity at the time the film was made in 1968. This is because sex is only a metaphorical tool used by Pasolini to bring about the main part of the film which holds the central theme. Though these sex scenes hold an integral role in what Pasolini wants to convey, it is the scenes that follow the departure of the Guest in the middle of the film that proves to be more crucial and more effective in drawing out stronger reactions like disbelief and bewilderment.

After their sexual encounters with the Guest, each member of the household is thrown from his/her comfort zone and copes with the void that the Guest left behind. The servant Emilia leaves the household and returns to her rural hometown, becomes a miracle worker and is soon sanctified by the villagers for performing these miracles. On the other hand, the family breaks apart and is plunged into making existential self-assessments. The timid daughter Odetta, falls into a catatonic state while her brother Pietro who is a painter, deviates from his usual repertoire and isolates himself from the family by making artworks no one is able to understand. Lucia, their mother proceeds to pick up young men who resemble the Guest and engages in sexual liaisons with them. Finally, Paolo, the family patriarch who is a factory owner, decides to strip himself of all his possessions and takes it to the highest level by giving his factory to his workers and by disrobing in a busy station before taking off to run about in the desert. These scenes appear to be the cathartic response of the family members after the Guest pulls them from their life of conventions, order, and worldly possessions.

Pasolini makes use of minimal dialogue lines. If it weren’t for the brilliant soundtrack of Ennio Morricone, one would’ve mistaken the movie to be a silent film. Each scene occurs with no warning as opposed to conventional films where the climax is a culmination of events that makes it predictable. This is what makes discerning the film challenging. Therefore, frameworks for understanding must be used. Before anything, Pasolini’s work is not complete without a Marxist analysis given his communist leaning and his outspoken criticisms of industrial societies and consumerism. Using Marxism and incorporating the concept of God, the film can be seen as a critique of a bourgeois society shaped by industrial values. Given that the basic unit of society is the family which Pasolini views as a bourgeois structure, an upper-class family in Milan, which is the industrial center of Italy, breaks down after the Guest’s appearance. The film heavily hints that the Guest is an allegorical reference to God which has shocked religious groups given the Guest’s sexual nature. Some have proposed that he is a devilish seducer who breaks down families although given Pasolini’s orientation towards the family, the first proposition seems more likely. In an interview, Pasolini reveals that it is not important to understand Teorema and that he leaves it to the audience to decide for themselves who the Guest might be. The important thing is that he is a sacred and supernatural being, not necessarily a Catholic God, but a god regardless of religion (Flatley par. 6). Using content analysis as a methodology, Pasolini’s interviews reveal that because of industrialization, the family members are now incapable of recognizing what is sacred in contrast to the servant who comes from a pre-industrial society and is able to fully absorb the capacity for working miracles (par. 9). It is apparent that Pasolini is partisan towards the servant because of her peasant background which he favors. On the other hand, a bourgeois structure like the family, who cannot recognize the sacred because of their consumerist tastes, conventional values, and preference for material gains, cannot resolve their predicament. My main critique of the film however, is that in his preference of Emilia’s peasant background, Pasolini is inadvertently romanticizing the peasant condition with its simple but superior lifestyle which is divorced from the true conditions in reality. Hunger continues to be a primordial problem and it is highly doubtful if this can be addressed by feeding on nettles like Emilia. It may also cultivate false hope among the working class by planting the notion that one only has to cling to the purely simple peasant lifestyle in order for miracles to occur. Epidemic health conditions continue to hound these poor communities and making them believe that divine miracles will be their panacea institutes learned helplessness and passivity. This contradicts the Marxist stand that religion is the opium of the people.

While a Marxist framework provides a structure of explanation for the film, it barely helps the audience in clarifying the actions of the family members after the Guest’s departure. Each character’s actions must be assessed as a function of his membership under the larger frame of society. This is where I would propose Freudian psychoanalysis to address the gaps left by the Marxist framework. Each character in the film is essentially experiencing repression before the Guest’s arrival. According to Freud, their id which adheres to the pleasure principle has been so repressed to give way to their superego which ensures compliance with the standards of society. Because of their ego’s inability to find a balance between the two, the characters fall into a state of psychosis. The use of repression in Teorema refers to a dual conceptual definition. It is political because it forcefully censors what has been considered unacceptable and psychological because it is a process in which unacceptable desires are excluded from the consciousness and left suppressed in the unconscious (Peterson 215). Emilia’s devotion to her religion has made her suppress carnal desires which she might have viewed as a cardinal sin but as implied by the first framework, she was able to overcome this conflict because her peasant background allows her to recognize what is sacred. The family members are not so fortunate. Odetta, who is hinted to harbour an Elektra complex towards her father, is able to divert these forbidden desires with the Guest. She becomes catatonic as she is reverted back to her former state of repressing this taboo. Meanwhile, Pietro repressed his homosexuality to avoid condemnation from his peers and a society which views it as a pathological condition. As a result, he has ensured through his postmodern artworks that he cannot be judged. Lucia repressed her sexual proclivity to maintain the image of a chaste bourgeois wife and to conform to expectations of a woman whose life revolves around her family. She then finds consolation by picking up random young men as she comes to terms with these desires. Finally, the father whose whole life is anchored on material goods and a conformist family life based on the societal measure of a man’s success, breaks down and strips himself of everything in the most literal sense in an attempt to find his true identity, free from the dictates of societal standards.

The last framework in the attempt to analyze the film is based on postmodernism. The film exhibits one of the most ambiguous features that a movie can have and this deviates from the modernist view where a central Truth, order, and unity are required. Through Pasolini’s deconstructionist style, he uses the film to challenge conventional notions of family life, economic prosperity, and life aspirations. Standards are now expunged and there are now no judgments to be meted out. Pasolini hints that the family members are better off leading a life faced with conflict and contradictions which is better than a life of alienation and false consciousness under the hegemonic worldview of seeing economic prosperity and family life as the ultimate aspiration and valuing conspicuous consumption. The title Teorema is apt for it refers to something that must be proven. As the central Truth of each family member collapses after the Guest’s appearance in their lives, they are compelled to engage in dialectics to overthow their former condition. The central Teorema has now collapsed and each member must find his own teorema.


Flatley, Guy. N.d. “Pier Paolo Pasolini - The Atheist Who was Obsessed with God.” Accessed on 15, September 2011.

Peterson, Thomas. “The Allegory of Repression from Teorema to Salo,” Italica Vol. 73, No. 2, Summer 1996: 215-232

- Faysah Abdullah

Monday, September 12, 2011

Doubt: The Foundations of Certainty

Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!

Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty! And armed with that, I will go to your last parish, and the one before that if necessary. I'll find a parent.

What are the consequences of Doubt?

“Doubt” by John Patrick Shanley is the film adaptation of the Tony awards grand-slam winner con Pulitzer Prize winning fictional stage play “Doubt: A Parable”. Shanley was born in The Bronx, New York City, to a telephone operator mother and a meat-packer father. He is a graduate of New York University, and a member of the Ensemble Studio Theatre. The film was dedicated to Sister Margaret McEntee of the Sisters of Charity of New York who taught John Patrick Shanley in the first grade. He based the character of Sr. James on Sr. Margaret McEntee, who was known as Sr. Marita James when she was his first grade teacher.

Set in the 1964, the film focused in the events in St. Nicholas School, a private Catholic school, where Sister Aloysius Beauvier (Meryl Streep) plays the staunch conservative Catholic principal. She is tagged as the “dragon lady” and knows the secret as to why teachers are mistaken (and feared) to have eyes behind their heads. On the contrary, the school also has Father Brendan Flynn (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a priest that promotes progressive ideas for the school – such as playing a secular song (Frosty, the Snowman) in their Christmas pageant. And seemingly employed to preempt the eventual clash of the two is the young and innocent Sister James (Amy Adams) who loves teaching and looks up high at Sr. Aloysius as her model.

After being intrigued by Fr. Flynn’s sermon about doubt (“Doubt can be a bond as sustaining as certainty…”) Sr. Aloysius ordered Sister James to watch out for anything unusual involving Fr. Flynn after seeing him in several occasions that have made her doubt about him. After being requested to pull the only African American student, Donald Miller, out of the class for a meeting and after seeing Fr. Flynn stuffing back the same student’s undershirt into his locker, Sister James suspects that there's something odd about Father Brendan and Donald’s relationship. Although Sister James didn't witness any inappropriate behavior, her observations fueled the fire of suspicion already burning in Sister Aloysius.

Sr. Aloysius eventually became successful in forcing Fr. Flynn to resign from the school by her made up phone calls to the latter’s previous schools regarding his “alleged” dark past. She then concludes that one also pays a price in pursuing wrongdoing. Finally, she broke down in tears in the last scene of the film and told Sister James: "I have doubts...I have such doubts."

One of the major themes of the film is the unending battle between conservatism versus change and progressivism. Conservatism, which was first used by François-René de Chateaubriand in 1819 following the French Revolution, promotes the maintenance of traditional institutions and supports, at the most, minimal and gradual change in society. While some conservatives aim to safeguard things as they are for stability and continuity, the others dispute change and pushes for returning to the way things were. In political science, it was introduced by Edmund Burke. On the other hand, progressivism is a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform through governmental action. The movement for progressivism began in the 19th-20th century when workers and reformers aimed to help those who are in harsh conditions at home and at work.

Taking the film literally, the film suggests apology to the issues attached to the Roman Catholic Church (RCC): sexual abuse issues, being one, and conservatism, another. Clearly, Sr. Aloysius was the personification of conservatism in the film while Fr. Flynn, of progressivism. This is particularly true in the 1960s when Pope Paul VI succeeded the deceased Pope John XXIII. The whole RCC was in the state of transition. From being more on the elitist side, the Church in 1960s reached out to the people, to the masses. He then introduced a lot of changes, hence pastoral progressivism. He reduced the Leviathan-like bureaucracy of the RCC and streamlined the positions; he reduced the eligibility age of the candidates for the papal elections; and he replaced the Papal Coronation with Papal Inauguration, among many other reforms.

Another theme that can be deduced from the film is the sufficiency of doubt to make judgments, or better put it, the politics of doubt. The film boasts Meryl Streep’s portrayal of Sr. Aloysius’ stronghold of certainty despite a lack of evidence and despite the fact that it only came from one thing, doubt. From this doubt, she was so paranoid to bring about preemptive actions partly because she “says” she’s concerned about the African American boy’s welfare and partly because he wants Fr. Flynn out of her toes.

Historically, or rather recently, we could recall that the Bush Administration of United States had done a similar thing, a preemptive strike (read: WAR) against Iraq which they have casted their doubts regarding the perpetrators of numerous terrorist attacks against them. This doctrine – the doctrine of Preemptive strike which replaced the doctrine of Cold war – aimed to pulverize the possible threat to their security before they become strong enough to proceed with posing and enacting the threat on them. The anthrax scare, the possession and production of nuclear weapons and othe weapons of mass destruction, the 9/11 bombing plus the minor “terrorist attacks” on the US: these were all blamed on the alleged conspiracy of the Iraqi government led by Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden. This led to an all-out war, exemplifying unilateralism and militarism against Iraq, and thus killing Hussein in 2006, bin Laden recently and other Iraqis, yes, including innocent lives. However, the judges at the Nuremberg trials of Nazi leaders posed that “to initiate a war of aggression is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulative evil of the whole.”

After this paragraph a line from the story seems to echo, “Doubt can be a bond as sustaining as certainty.”

As a result to the discussion about doubt, if doubt is so powerful that it leads to people claiming their doubt as the truth, that it has its own brand of politics, we face the question how far is doubt from truth? This brings the question as to what defines the Truth. Or rather under what circumstance and indicators –who, what, where, when, how—defines the Truth?

John Patrick Shanley has genius-ly written “Doubt: A Parable” that it won numerous theatre awards, was adapted into film “Doubt” and was nominated several times in prestigious award-giving bodies. Now, we are probably facing the most relevant consequence of the film; for a setting not so distant from the viewers of today, we are bombarded with grand issues and themes that practically encompass much of our daily lives, thanks to the film.

You think Doubt doesn’t have consequences? I doubt it.

- Franco Oliva