Movies and mental health




The Manila Times

Front Page

PEOPLE are entitled to their pain, we all know that. Everyone has a right to mourn, be it the death of a loved one or the defeat of a preferred candidate. And it is incumbent upon us to commiserate, if not understand and respect that. But not when the one who is mourning is in a destructive path of eviscerating not only themselves, but the people around them. In such cases, we need to intervene to stop these people from hurting themselves and others. We bring in professional help to minister to their mental health. Just after the elections, we simply dismissed the emotional state of supporters of losing candidates as part of a natural process, from where they would move on. After all, we have been through competitive electoral cycles in the past, and losing candidates and their supporters have recovered in time. People began not only to accept the results, but regained their bearings in terms of social relationships. And then the 2022 elections happened. While the conduct and the results of the elections obtained an overwhelming level of trust from 82 percent of the people, according to a survey by Pulse Asia, and was only doubted by 4 percent, those who do not trust the results appear to be making their noise felt in social media and may have a relatively higher prevalence among many professionals and the artistic and intellectual elites. This is why while they may just be a minority, the social trauma that their pain can inflict, and the optics they create, is amplified. After all, they flood Facebook and Twitter with their bitterness. The fact that even members of the intellectual elites from academia and the artistic elites from cultural institutions become active bearers of this minority but noisy discourse lends an air of authority and credibility to the ranting and raving. Movies and art are supposed to be therapeutic, and are good for mental health. And yet, what we have witnessed recently is a society whose toxic divisiveness in the recently held elections has transmogrified into becoming a serious threat to mental health. The battle between now President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and defeated candidate and former vice president Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo is now transplanted into the domain of cinema. Darryl Yap’s “Maid in Malacañang” and Vince Tañada’s “Katips” have become proxies for the battle royale between Marcos and Robredo, who are in fact also proxies for the larger battle between the Marcos brand and its political enemies and critics. And the patterns are consistent with the election results. We have an overwhelming majority of voters giving the Marcos brand a reboot, allowing the Marcoses the opportunity to continue their legacy that was interrupted in 1986, while the badly defeated political minority saw this as an enormous risk to history as they fear an orgy of revisionism and propaganda rushing in with a vengeance. This fear was heightened when Viva Films announced the showing of “Maid in Malacañang,” with the tandem of Yap and Sen. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” Marcos, who was behind the notoriously hilarious and effective campaign satire that featured the character Lenlen and inflicted damage to Robredo, now also behind the movie as director and creative producer, respectively. All it took was for Ella Cruz, the actor who played the character of the young Irene Marcos Araneta in the movie, to make an innocent comment about history being like gossip, for the dam of vitriol to break. Poor Cruz was pilloried, even by people who should know better. Her fate was sealed by the fact that she became the representation of an entire narrative which the intellectual and artistic elites aligned with the defeated Robredo despised and swore to take down at any cost. The confrontation was further heightened when Tañada decided to have a rerun of his “Katips,” a movie about communist activism and rebellion against Marcos which was already shown in the latter part of 2021, to deliberately counter what he and others in the anti-Marcos crowd feared as unbridled historical revisionism in “Maid in Malacañang.” This only fanned further the toxicity in social media. With the elections over but the pain of defeat still fresh, partisan combatants found a new battleground, but with the same discursive patterns of anti-Marcos forces on the attack, now demonizing a movie they have yet to see, all based on their deep-seated political biases. We saw historians and academics brandishing the superiority of their science over the cheap shot of being likened to gossip, but behaving badly in making conclusions without first gathering evidence, which is actually a fundamental violation of the scientific method. We have artists and directors who in normal times would defend their creative license now appearing to be pushing for law-like parameters to bound what is valid art, and worse, judge an entire creation on the basis of a teaser and a trailer. For these people, it doesn’t matter that “Maid in Malacañang” turned out to be not the revisionist piece of propaganda they feared it to be, but a family drama punctuated by comic moments. It doesn’t matter that the much-criticized mahjong scene was more a symbolic representation and not a claim to a historical fact. Someone I know considered the movie as nothing but propaganda because it showed the human side of the Marcoses, while calling the more propaganda-loaded musical “Katips” as the epitome of realistic art. And the assault on the act of showing our human side continues. This is seen in the way Jerome Ponce, an actor who played the role of a student activist-turned-communist rebel in “Katips,” was bashed simply because he watched “Maid in Malacañang.” Ponce is an actor paid to play a role. To label him like he committed treason because he watched a movie reveals the state of mind of some of those on the losing side in the last elections. I really fear for their mental health, and the health of those around them.