SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers may be found in the following article.
Bar Boys: a film that follows one barkada, four young men, in their personal and collective struggles through law school and ultimately the bar exams. As shown from the poster above in clockwise order from the top left, the film focuses on the lives of Erik, Torran, Joshua, and Chris. First, we learn from the film that Erik’s struggles involve coming from a poor family, a poor grasp on English, an unreliable memory, and being unaffiliated (i.e. one without a fraternity). Second, we meet Torran, the apparent alpha in the barkada, with impeccable memory, a solid fraternity, and just the right smarts and connections to get him by law school without much difficulty. He encounters some moral conflict, however, when it comes to participating and reporting hazing excesses (he’s fine with just hazing) – which is as much conflict as he gets in the movie. Third: Joshua failed to pass the law school entrance exam and becomes a model. Throughout the film his character plays a foil of sorts to the self-enclosed realm of the three other men in law school: a reminder of things past and of the world outside. Lastly, Chris is the called the “conyo kid” for his accented English and his roots from a wealthy family – a fact he literally says out loud near the end of the film, “dahil mayaman ako, hindi ibig sabihin na wala akong problema!” With great power comes great responsibility – thus, Chris’ father has high expectations and even required him to break up with his girlfriend to “avoid distractions.” While kind and caring in appearance, he has no qualms in showing his ruthless side when the time calls for it such as handing out failing grades to his classmates who got wrong answers and choosing to keep his honors over taking a lower grade to allow Erik to graduate on time.
The film had 110 minutes according to IMDB – quite a feat considering that those 110 minutes condensed 5 years of studying in law school and the bar exams. I have to admit that I was skeptical on how a film could condense all that – but Bar Boys managed it. According to a Bar Boys press conference I found on YouTube – the objective of the film was to show the deeply personal struggles behind the toil in the study of law: “underneath that exterior of aral-aral…may istorya yan eh – why they persist. And that’s what the film tries to uncover: ano ba ‘yung istorya mo underneath that exterior,” said the director. On that point, I could say that Bar Boys was rather successful. But as a movie, the problem with that objective is that it could well apply to anything. In other words, it was just too generic.
Every human being has a story. Every person has a past – a history – one with their own dreams and aspirations. And every struggle that involves human conflict eventually is an opportunity for personal revelation. If I could paraphrase Arendt: it is through speech and action that the actor is disclosed and revealed as a person. Why else would the Iliad have those grandiose, largely impractical speeches between two soldiers before they fight to the death? Why have poets and artists taken war as their subject throughout the centuries? Maybe they too saw that war was one way to distill the human condition. That being said, the movie ended up as a compilation of law school anecdotes. We see the challenges of poverty every day in the news as do we see the comforts of the rich or the power of the well-connected. Rich vs poor, strong vs. weak – we have seen it all. Pick any law school and there are bound to be a number of Erik’s, Torran’s, Chris’s, and Josh’s. What makes law school struggles different from med school struggles? What do those characters say about us? What does law school say about us? From Bar Boys: nothing new. It has been said that the truly great stories are those that manage to universalize some particular condition or event – one that cuts into who the particular characters in the story are (e.g. law students) to reveal some insight into who they (and, consequently, we) are as human persons.
To be fair, it was only when I was driving home from the movie that I felt it lacked depth. Some clips had their moment of entertainment. I could relate to many of the clips of recitations, readings, and professors, but that was about it. It was akin to being shown a photo album of the years past. But at the end there it was: it was just the other end of the cover – emptiness.
I can think of two movies that might be fun to juxtapose with Bar Boys: Legally Blonde (2001) and The Paper Chase (1973). The latter was a movie recommended to me during my Constitutional Law 2 class with Prof. Pangalangan. Here’s a clip:
Among the themes in the movie was a law student’s relationship with grades. Grades: that touchy topic of law school that provokes a wide array of reactions among law students. We only get a glimpse of that in Bar Boys when Chris gives 5s to his erring classmates or the struggle of Erik to get a passing mark. The ending of the two movies likewise involves a revelation of sorts of one’s grades. In Bar Boys, Erik holds his final grade in a little brown envelope and gives it to Torran to open, who later misleads Erik into thinking he failed when in reality he passed. In The Paper Chase, we find as the camera hovers over the shoulder of the feared Mr. Kingsfield, the final blue exam booklet of Hart gets a 93 with big “A” written on the front. Later on, the scene cuts to a beach were Hart is sitting by a rock with his feet on the sand. He gets a letter with the words “GRADES ENCLOSED” in bold letters. He pauses, and he’s asked, “Aren’t you going to open your grades?” He thinks and then folds the unopened envelope into a paper plane. He climbs a rock and throws the plane into the sea.
Aside from grades, the juxtaposition of Professors Kingsfield and Hernandez is fertile soil for reflection. But I suppose that’s better left for another blog entry.