“Himala”: A Film About the Dangers of Blind Faith

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Ishmael Bernal has directed many films that are now considered Filipino cinema classics. One of his more popular movies is “Himala”, penned by Ricky Lee and starring Nora Aunor in a career-defining role. Though the movie was released in 1982, many of the themes and ideas presented in this movie are still relevant today. The notion that we should never question or critique things and that we should just have faith is something that I often hear from many people–relatives, acquaintances, church leaders, etc. “Himala” warns that this sort of mentality can potentially be very destructive.

The story follows Elsa (Nora Aunor), a woman who claims that the Blessed Virgin Mary had appeared to her while she was by the place where her mother had found her as an infant. At first, many people were skeptical but then she began faith-healing. Soon after this, Elsa was able to amass a loyal band of followers, who dubbed themselves her “Seven Apostles”.

Word soon spread about Elsa’s faith-healing and their once-desolate town of Cupang quickly transformed into a popular tourist attraction. Many pilgrims, curious travelers and even filmmakers traveled to Cupang to witness Elsa’s “miracles”.

Things quickly backfired on Elsa when she couldn’t save two children who had cholera, and when she was unable to help her friend when they were both raped. People lost their faith in her and blamed her for all the horrible things that happened in the town. But then the rain came and they once again believed that Elsa had saved their town from a drought.

I wasn’t around when “Himala” was first released (mostly because I wasn’t born yet at the time) so I wonder how Filipino audiences first reacted to this movie. I know that nowadays it is considered one of the best Filipino movies of all time but I wonder if it was as warmly-received back then as it is now, given that its main themes were about the dangers of blind faith.

Seeing as how we live in a predominantly Catholic nation and that Filipinos take pride in being religious and spiritual people, I can imagine this movie ruffling a lot of feathers with its somewhat cynical view of faith-healing. Take heed, though, dear reader, “Himala” is not anti-religion or anti-faith (since even our main protagonist acknowledged that her actions have brought people together and have even brought some closer to God) but it does warn us about faith taken to the extreme.

At the end of the movie, (spoiler alert; even though this part of the movie has been endlessly quoted by countless other Filipino films and actors) Elsa confesses to the people that the miracles weren’t real (“Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat!“). She then gets shot but one of her most loyal followers tells the crowd that Elsa is a martyr and that they ought to finish the work she started. The crowd falls on their knees and recites the “Hail Mary” while climbing the hill.

What does it say about us that even when the facts are staring us right in the face, we turn away and continue believing our own inaccurate beliefs?  I have seen many people turn a blind eye to events going on around us while continuing to tell themselves that everything is as it should be. While there is nothing wrong with having faith, we must all also be open-minded and aware. We must use our brains alongside our hearts. Or else, much like the deluded crowd, we may end up living life in the false reality of our own making.

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UNPOPULAR OPINION: Filipinos Think in Black-And-White

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President Duterte has only been in office for seven months but, to me, it feels like he’s been president for seven years. Whether you are an ardent supporter of his or not, you can’t deny that these past few months have been intense. There has been so much going on–the EJKs, the Marcos burial, rogue cops, even the Miss Universe pageant. There has been so much controversy, so much fighting and so much overall negativity. Change truly has come… but whether that change has been beneficial or harmful, I can’t say.

Here is what I will say… What I’ve noticed over these past few months is that Filipinos tend to think in black-and-white. (DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know that Filipinos aren’t the only ones who are guilty of this.)

You are either a supporter or a basher. You are either for or against. You are either a fanatic or a hater. We tend to ignore nuances and make no room for grey areas.

One recent example of this is the “interpreter controversy” during the Miss Universe pageant. When our candidate Maxine Medina decided not to use her interpreter during the Q&A portion of the pageant, Filipinos were quick to react. All the reactions I’ve seen were either overwhelmingly negative (“She should’ve used the interpreter! Tanga naman!”) or overwhelmingly positive (“Basta! Support our own! Mga bashers lang kayo!“). Here’s my beef with these two extremes: The situation is a lot more nuanced than that (to quote “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”).

The thing is… Yes, of course we should support and encourage our fellow Filipinos, especially when they are representing us in international events but this does not mean that we should just shut up and not voice our opinions about things. Criticism is not bashing.

I repeat: CRITICISM IS NOT BASHING.

Bashing is something done out of spite and is often used to mock and belittle a person (i.e. “Tanga tanga naman niya! Dapat di nalang siya sumali!!!”). Criticism, especially CONSTRUCTIVE criticism, is an assessment of a perceived fault intended to help said person (i.e. “Hmm. She has trouble expressing herself in English. Maybe she should use Tagalog or whichever language she is most comfortable with.“).

When your English teacher tells you that your spelling needs work, that is a criticism. When the schoolyard bully tells you that you are stupid, that is bashing. We can and should learn the difference.

We can and should learn to find the middle ground between two opposing extremes. Making statements like “Di mo sinusuportahan ang Presidente, Dilawan ka kasi!” or “Sinusuportahan mo si Digong? DUTERTARD ka!” is not a productive way to debate with others. The key to productive intellectual discourse is through acknowledging facts and then making your point without resorting to name-calling, personal insults or generalizations.

To my fellow Filipinos, black-and-white thinking will not get us anywhere. The world isn’t so black-and-white. The real world is oftentimes complex, ambiguous and nuanced. I think we all ought to start acknowledging the shades of gray in all situations–whether political, social or personal.

 

 

Like A Phoenix…

…From the ashes of destruction and ruin, I shall be born anew.

This is just my melodramatic way of saying that I’m planning on re-organizing this blog and I’m going to start writing again. I’m a bit rusty since I haven’t really written anything in a while (aside from some papers for school).

I am now a UP GRADUATE (yeah, humble-bragging)–albeit an unemployed one. So, since I am constantly at home and looking for something to do, this blog could be like a form of therapy for this poor, lost soul.

Having already changed the site’s theme, I’m also planning on including some new columns in addition to the already existing column: “Random Thoughts“.

Some new column ideas:

  • Fandom 101” – A column where I can just continually gush about things I’m a fan of–superheroes, MCU, Harry Potter, Sherlock, etc.
  • Unpopular Opinion” – Opinion pieces about certain current events and other such controversial topics
  • Screen Envy” – Movie and TV reviews

Well, that’s it! I’ll try to post as much as I can.